High school students work hard to achieve their dream of coming to college only to be finally in recovery classes because high school did not prepare them properly.
Because she grew up in East Palo Alto, a Bay Area city that was once better known as the crime capital of the nation, Marisol Alvarado understood the importance of having a good school performance.
Unlike many of his classmates, Alvarado was able to tie ties between his aspirations and his reality. He graduated from Menlo-Atherton High School with an average score of 3.9 points, almost perfect, earning a full scholarship at nearby Menlo College, a four-year business school. But when she arrived on campus, she discovered that her almost perfect academic record had not really prepared her for the rigors of college work. Suddenly, the performance student A was in trouble, she did not understand her homework assignments and was taking notes from B and C.
“It was embarrassing for me to be aware of how many times I had to read the same section over and over again to understand it,” recalls Alvarado, now 30. By the end of the first semester, he had a grade point average of 2.5 and staggered for dropping out of his academic level. She remembers calling her previous high school counselor to cry and tell her about how difficult college was.
“I felt very lost,” she says.
Alvarado is not alone. Nearly half of first-year college students find that, despite their excellent middle grades and having been able to enter college, they are not prepared to continue their studies after high school, according to the National Center for Public Policies and Higher Education. Attending college preparatory courses, obtaining high school diplomas and passing state exams to finish high school, none of this is sufficient to ensure that these students are truly prepared for university work.
“I felt like an idiot. It was as if it did not fit, “says Alvarado.
We may not be surprised to hear that many bright high school students have problems when they get to college classes. But Alvarado got excellent grades in high school. Should not those students who take A to be at least guaranteed university preparation?
The performance gap in action
Not in the severe world of persistent educational achievement gaps. Alvarado, a Latina from a low-income family where the first language was not English, was the first of her family to attend college. Alvarado’s school, Menlo-Atherton, offered rigorous college preparatory classes and other educational opportunities that prepare students for college, but Alvarado did not receive them. As she claims, she could have done so, but she did not even know about honors or AP courses.
Although she started high school as an ESL student, Alvarado enrolled in an in-school computer academy “to be at the forefront of technology,” in her own words. “I thought it was a college-level preparation, but it was not.”
Despite her impressive academic qualifications, she found herself on the “wrong side of the achievement gap,” a term used for a disparity in academic performance among disadvantaged students and their most privileged peers. Although Alvarado has not been a student at Menlo-Atherton High School for years, the current school rating given by Great Schools is 8 above average and 3 below average for low-income students, which shows that things have not changed much.
To bridge the gap, Alvarado, like 41 percent of Hispanic students, had to enroll in college recovery classes. Retrieval classes designed for college students to catch up developing basic skills in English, writing, reading or math have become an increasingly common barrier for low-income and minority college students. 42 percent of African American students and 31 percent of white students need college recovery classes.
For students requiring recovery classes, college is longer and more expensive. Students, generally, cannot enroll in classes that are necessary for their degree until they pass recovery classes. But in addition, some critics have suggested that most recovery classes fail to achieve their goals; But they do not develop the critical thinking skills necessary for university-level learning. Perhaps this is the reason why 50 percent of students fail to complete their recovery classes, according to a study by the US Department of Education. Perhaps most alarming is that only 17 percent of students who attended reading recovery and 27 percent of students who enrolled in math recovery received a bachelor’s degree. Many students withdraw or never appear when faced with recovery classes.
Alvarado is among the positive percentages. She took a semester free to return to solve her legal situation in the United States. He then returned to college and took in a single semester a load of 18 units of recovery courses at Menlo College and 8 units at a college to be able to catch up with his peers.
In the end, Alvarado’s persistence and his arduous work allowed him to obtain two degrees, one in Business and the other in International Business. With tenacious determination, he managed to graduate in four years. In 2010, he earned a Master’s in Sociology from San Jose State University.
Costs of Recovery Classes
Most students are not so fortunate. In addition to the added costs of recovery classes, they need more time to pass university subjects, incurring tuition debts and keeping them out of the job market. Many buy the debt without ever being able to pay it.
“These students are much less likely to get the degree,” notes Alfred Poor, author of 7 Secrets of Success that every college student should know. “Some students have difficulty completing development classes. Even if they do, it extends their college career, which means more time and more expense. “
What can be done?
The key, say, experts, is for parents to make sure their children’s school is capable and interested in helping their children succeed. Parents should ensure that their children have access to lessons and experiences to develop their skills.
For children to succeed in college, they need to receive college preparation classes, not just bring home good grades in their regular classes. They need to feel comfortable reading complex texts and learning to persist in deciphering mathematical problems that constitute challenges for them. “When parents get involved in their child’s education and come to visit, the child does it better,” says Dr. Patrick Coggins, a professor of multicultural education and education at Stetson University in Florida. This does not mean investing in PTA hours, but rather, helping your child select classes, meeting with academic advisors, and knowing that he or she is doing what is right for them to achieve their goal, attend class and turn in assignments, for example.
For parents whose children are already facing the possibility of recovery classes, experts suggest using the community college as a bridge to college for four years. The community college can be a great help to low-performing students, says Coggins, “If a student did not do well in high school he will have to struggle a lot when he gets to college.” College institutes offer a less shaken transition to higher education with more family-friendly and home-like environments, closer in size and style to high school.
When parents cannot help with the academic side, they can help by putting their child in contact with teachers, mentors, counselors or potential mentors. Alvarado, who has seen too many friends in her neighborhood get low-paid jobs in the services sector, get pregnant or not finish high school, agrees. For Alvarado, a sixth-grade math teacher who cared, a high school counselor with whom he spoke regularly and other mentors at his high school made a big difference. They offered someone encouraging and understanding who to call when a 2.5 grade in that first semester of college made him feel that his world was staggering.
“They encouraged me to do well in school, to do well in college, and they taught me that doing my homework was a priority,” says Alvarado.
Now that she is program director at the Catholic Charities Youth Club, an extracurricular program in East Palo Alto, Alvarado understands the complete cycle of the achievement gap on the road to college. She helps students navigate through the education system, learn to study, find advanced placement classes, and make plans for college. Students in your program are committed to being the first in your family to graduate from high school and go to college.
“We want to give them the opportunity,” says Alvarado. “We want to show them that there is a difference between a career and a job.”