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Q&A with a new college student: ‘I was never taught to be ready for college’

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For the second year in a row, Hispanics will be the largest minority on U.S. college campuses this fall, according to a new report by the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C. Exiel Sanchez, a 17-year-old from the Bronx, will be among them when he heads off to Onondaga Community College outside of Syracuse, N.Y., next week.

A nonprofit organization helped Exiel Sanchez (far left) finish high school, but he still feels unprepared for his first college classes next week. (Photo courtesy of The Brotherhood/Sister Sol.)

Although he is excited about starting classes, Sanchez says he also feels nervous and unprepared for college-level academics. He struggled in high school—failing classes and falling behind in credits—until his junior year, when he says a Harlem-based organization, Brotherhood/Sister Sol, which provides mentoring and other services to young people, helped him get on the right track.

Two million Hispanic students are now enrolled in college, or 16.5 percent of the overall college-student population. Like Sanchez, many aren’t ready when they arrive: A fifth of Hispanic students enrolled in four-year colleges, and nearly two-thirds at community colleges, must take remedial courses. Sanchez spoke to The Hechinger Report about what he thinks institutions should do to help students like himself start college on better footing.

Q: Tell me about your school experiences so far.

A: My family is from the Dominican Republic, and I grew up in the Bronx. I went to Mott Hall High School.* My high-school career was a challenge to me … I didn’t have a lot of guidance. I was never happy going to school.

I was coming to school one day, there would be a guy handing out newspapers, and there was an article that talked about money and what the city schools were receiving. And it talked about what schools in the suburbs get.

I was never able to take books home. This is what they did at my school: There would be an algebra class. It would be 40 books. But there would be three to four classes during the day, and those students would have that one book during that period, and we wouldn’t be able to take the books home because there were only 40 copies in the school.

These [suburban] schools were getting so much money, and these kids were getting to take their books home. They were getting triple. That’s something that blew my mind.

Do you feel ready to go to college?

No. I know that the education I was given in the New York public school system is an eighth-grade level education. It’s just unbelievable, because I want to do better for myself. I’ve been in school for 12 years and I’ve got an eighth-grade education. I have to take remedial classes in math. I’m not really worried … I’ll get it done. It just sucks that I was never taught to be ready for college.

What could your school, or the school district, have done differently?

My school could have taught me things earlier. There are things I learned last year that I should have learned my freshman year. There were no—what were those classes called? They’re special classes they give students?

AP [Advanced Placement] classes?

There were no AP classes in my school. In my school, math only went up to geometry. The only math we got in my school was algebra and geometry. There was just one teacher and 45 students.**

When I went to school, I didn’t feel like any of the teachers cared about me. They just got their money and went home. I always pictured high school where they helped you and tried to get you to college. My counselors never talked to me.

If you were going to fix your school, what’s one thing you would do?

I would change the amount of students in the class. It was chaos. It was so many students in one classroom, sometimes you wouldn’t hear what the teacher would be saying. There were so many kids who didn’t care about school.

What else would you tell education reformers to focus on?

I would change the teachers. The teachers we receive, it’s not that they’re not smart, but they’re not well-prepared to teach. When these teachers pursue teaching, they just grab them. They don’t train them.

I would have a budget for all the schools to be equal. And I would just want to feel welcomed in school, so people knew who I was, you know?

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. It was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet based at Teachers College, Columbia University.

*This article has been corrected from an earlier version, which mistakenly referred to Mott Hall Bronx High School. Sanchez attended the original Mott Hall High School in Harlem. Mott Hall received a B on its most recent report card from the city.

**According to Mott Hall’s New York state report card, the average class size for 10th grade classes in core subjects ranges from 25 to 31.

Comments & Trackbacks (13) | Post a Comment

Ms. V.

I know the leader of this school, and a few things about the school that make me doubt many of the “facts” this student states. It’s possible that these were his experiences, but I think there may be more to the story. In the interest of fairness, you might want to talk to someone at the school.

For example, while Mott Hall Bronx High School may not offer AP classes, I believe it has an IB program, generally considered a rigorous alternative to AP.

Ms. V.

The Inside Schools profile confirms the IB program at Mott Hall, though many students do not reach those more rigorous courses. Nonetheless, my guess is that if this student was struggling until 10th grade, he was too far behind to make it past Geometry. That doesn’t mean other courses weren’t offered!

I think the city schools have real problems with graduates being college-ready, and Mott Hall Bx HS may be included, but I also think basic facts about the schools should be accurate in your reporting.

Sarah Garland

The Inside Schools profile is (mostly) glowing, and does say the school has an International Baccalaureate program. That’s why we included a link to the school and footnotes about the school’s achievements, including its high graduation rate. But a Q&A is by definition one person’s perspective, and we thought Exiel Sanchez had an interesting one.

Harold Kassel

If we stopped the mindless macho pigheaded ape superpower nonsense that would liberal billions for schools. I am not interested in protecting South Korea from North Korea or Taiwan from China, and I think it is extremely improbable those countries will need protection. We still have troops in Okinawa. Why? Every time I hear terrorism thwarted it is because of police. Fighting in Afghanistan is irrelevant. My views aren’t isolationist. Britain, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, China, Japan, India, Brazil, and Argentina among others do not have troops all over the world and people in those countries are not views as isolationist The other source of income would be a steeply graduate tax. Inequality in income distribution in this country is pathological.

anna

Does he accept any responsbility for his academics? What was he doing in his free time? What about his parents? Young adults today (I’m one of them so yes, I am judging) hav no accountability. It’s always someone else’s fault and the government’s supposed to fix it. we’re screwed.

ms. e.

It doesn’t matter how experienced or well trained the teacher is, if half the class is disruptive to the point that the other half can’t hear the lesson.

E. Morales

Who is ever really taught to be ready for college? I graduated from college 10 years ago and, looking back, feel that, not only was I very ignorant, but very closed out as well. My parents did not have much money to send me away, so I took out loans and went to a local college. Even though it was a great experience and I met lots of friends, I left college with lots of debt and not much reason for feeling good about myself. High school was good, but there was no path to ‘getting ready for college’. All I can say now is, I know I have enough experience to get my kids ready. For all who are entering college today, do your research, find out what it’s like and make the best decisions for yourself. In the end, you’ll be the one living your life.

Wendy

The problem is that most children of less-educated parents (assuming there are two of them) come home to an environment that is not pro-education. The kids don’t have their own space, don’t know how to study and complete assignments. Often, these families are highly dysfunctional/chaotic. You cannot realistically expect a kid to thrive in that type of environment.

They deserve better parents, but life is not fair and the kids have to figure out how to make for themselves a life better than their parents have taught them to expect.

I know, I know I’m being judgmental.

Stephanie Crim

As a teacher (Public School) in a different state, I can understand much of what Mr. Sanchez is talking about. I do not believe that this young man was disrespectful about his school, the Public School System in general, or his teachers. While it may have been possible for Mr. Sanchez to achieve a higher level of academic competency when he was in Public School, the reality of what he saying rings true for many students entering college. All he has said is that he does not feel adequately prepared for college, and his school is part, not all, of the problem. He points out many factors that contribute to his problem including class size, training (not education or knowledge) of teachers, availibility of resources, and him feeling welcome and valued as a student when at school. Even if Geometry is the highest level of math offered at this school, that should be sufficient for entry into community college withoug taking remedial classes. I do agree in part that Mr. Sanchez needs to take some responsibility for his lack of preparedness for Community College and he does that within his interview by stating that he did not give full effort in school until his Junior Year. The problem with this, since Mr Sanchez, obviously has the potential to be a good student and College bound, is why did it take so long for someone within the system to adequately and properly motivate this student for even higher levels of success. Even though Mr. Sanchez feels overwhelmed with college, I like his positive “get it done” attitude”, it is with this attitude which will make him succeed. And although, even when edited, his grammar, is lackluster and incorrect, his ideas are characteristic of higher order thinking and a high level of comprehension and intelligence. It is a shame that his foundation is only that of a (remedial) 8th Grade Education at best as this student is cleary capable of advanced classes. It is part of our job as teachers to give these students the foundation and mechanics to reach their full potential, and it is apparent that as a whole, many school systems (systems versus individuals, because I know that the majority of teachers want to see students like Mr. Sancez reach his full potential) are lacking in resources, adequate and appropriate (classroom management, cultural diversity) training, and cohesiveness in approach and implementation of curriculum.

bettina

So, you “believe” that the school has an IB program, but you are not “Sure.” Just because you don’t like what facts this 1 student is making about their schooling experience, doesn’t mean that it isn’t all true.
It very well could be. I went to Stadium High School out here in WA. and I also noticed that their were some teachers that were either burned out or only cared about getting through the day so they could go do something else. I had a biology teacher that absolutely refused to stay after school to help me with my studies. I failed the class, because I had no help from anyone, and only knew certain levels of math. So their was quite a bit that I didn’t understand. As a parent, I understand that not all schools are the same, even for a public school system. I’m not fond of knowing that I only have so many options for my kids to get through school. But unlike myself, I will be there to help them as much as I can.

Sarah Garland

Several people have commented asking about Exiel’s parents. Since you’re curious, here’s some more information: He was raised by a single mother who he says expected him to excel in school. She herself did not attend college–she came from a big family in the Dominican Republic and her parents couldn’t afford to send her–so she didn’t have much experience to draw on in helping him prepare and apply for college. As Exiel put it: “I never … spoke to my mom about how I was doing in school. She has so many expectations for me. So when I came home and things weren’t done, and my grades weren’t looking good, I didn’t want to worry her.”

Kathryn Malloy

I am the princial of Mott Hall Bronx High School.

No student by this name has ever attended Mott Hall Bronx High School.

I have contacted the author and editor and they are looking into the mistake.

John Edwards

Bettina,
Apparently English was not one of Stadium’s strong points either. They obviously don’t teach the proper use of ” there” and ” their”.
Admittedly our language is a difficult one to master and “there” and “their” is a pet peeve of mine. This is not intended to be a jab at you personally.
I attended a very small HS on the Olympic Peninsula that was not considered a college prep school. I got my degree as a Clinical Laboratory Scientist at the age of 38. Took that long as I was not prepared educationally or personally. Most likely my fault. I was into football and girls, (although I did quite well in English and lit) not studying. I feel that most of my teachers cared deeply but could identify the students that did not. Thusly, their efforts went toward students that would utilize the information wisely.

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