It is difficult to teach about social inequality in a suburban Indianapolis school but on the South Coast a small investment of time can make a huge difference, according to Shannon White, Puente’s Summer Teacher.
Here’s the rest of the story, in her own words:
The mostly white, upper-middle class students at the suburban Indianapolis high school believe they deserve privileges because that’s all that they know. They cannot understand their own privilege because many of them have never seen or met someone who does not share their same opportunities or access to resources. So many of them believe as one of my students did, “Everyone in the United States gets an equal opportunity to be successful.”
I ask every student in the classroom to stand up and push in his or her chair. I explain to my students that I am going to give them each an “equal opportunity” to reach high school graduation in this simulated experience. I point to my classroom door and say, “That door represents high school graduation. If you can touch the door by the end of the simulation, you have earned your high school diploma and graduated.”
I then present the students with their equal opportunity. “Some of you may think that because everyone has access to public education, everyone has equal access to success. Each of you will get the same opportunity to reach high school graduation. In this simulation, that equal opportunity is three steps. When I say ‘Go,’ you will have the chance to take your three steps to get to the door, which is our representation of graduation. Ready? Go.” The ensuing moments are delightful to witness.
The students closest to the door casually take their three steps and reach the door, no problem.
The next range of students is able to take three very large steps or three leaping steps to reach the door. They have to try a bit harder, but they are able to reach out and touch the door.
The students farthest from the door have two typical responses: some of them do nothing considering any effort they would make to reach the door completely futile; the others get extremely creative, trying to hurdle furniture and throw chairs in their path to avoid taking official “steps” but still allowing themselves to move closer to the door. Either way for this final group, none of the students make it to the door; none make it to graduation.
I ask the students to return to their seats to unpack the simulation. For most, the experience is eye opening, and it opens a door for me to talk to my students about my experiences on the South Coast of California during the months of our summer break.
This is the second consecutive summer I have returned to the South Coast to serve Puente and the students that participate in its youth leadership and employment program. My experiences and relationships with each of the students as their summer teacher have shown me that certainly not all students come to school with an equal chance to succeed, graduate, or achieve their dreams.
All of the students of Puente have big dreams. Some are able to take huge steps and leap to reach their goals. Others face significantly greater challenges. But, it is entirely possible for them reach the graduation door with not only support from school, their parents, the community, and Puente, but also with a mentor at their side.
What the simulation with my suburban Indianapolis students leaves out are the mentors and community resources that are available to help support and sustain South Coast students all the way to graduation, opening doors of opportunity along the way so that they can achieve their dreams.
Might you be one of those mentors for a Puente youth? Will you be the extra stepping stone that gets our future scientists, physical therapists, professional translators, California Highway Patrol, and Nobel Prize winners to graduation? The students need mentors of all varieties. Some of our students need extra assistance in specific subjects that are challenging (i.e.: math, science, English, etc.). Others need a mentor who can serve as an accountability partner, checking in on their academic life. No matter the type of mentor you might be, the students need you. If you are interested in connecting with a student as a mentor, please contact Abby Mohaupt, Volunteer Coordinator, at email@example.com or (650) 262-4095.