colleges

College Access From the Inside Out: My Story

March 3, 2018

The youth voices below come from the Oasis Center in Tennessee. Each young person reflects on the impact that “youth mobilizers” — young people trained and supported to use the Youth IMPACT! approach — can have in making college access a bigger part of their high schools, communities and local governments. Each shared his or her voice as part of a 2012 report and recommendations on college access written from the perspective of students going through the challenges of getting adequate support for their pursuit of higher education:

"The invaluable resource of people actively working to promote college and support and motivate students is essential. Without this support, the entire system will falter."

Tayo Atanda, Age 19

My name is Tayo Atanda. I am a graduate of Stratford High School and a junior at Tennessee State University. My family came from Nigeria, where education is highly valued. We came to the United States because this is the “land of opportunity.” And yet I have learned from personal experience that the current system is not making our young people realize that opportunity.

I spent my first year of high school in Florida. During my freshman year, I was given guidance on what I needed to take in order to get to college. When I moved to Nashville my sophomore year– the guidance stopped completely. My school served mostly low-income students. We only had one guidance counselor for the senior class. Currently, one guidance counselor is assigned to every 600 students in Metro Nashville Public Schools. According to research, a student has a 50 percent chance of getting a post-secondary education if his/her parent did not get a post-secondary education. This shows that we need to pay more attention to first-generation college students. Our guidance counselor reported to us only spending 20 percent of her time helping seniors with college access because she was too busy trying to get students grades up and making sure that the students take the right classes. The fact is that the guidance staff is overwhelmed. They need additional support to complete all of the duties for which they are responsible.

My future should not be left up to chance and neither should the lives of other young people. We need to make sure that ALL of our public schools have college counseling, especially in schools that serve low-income communities, where the college counseling is not readily available through other sources like parents, mentors, and friends, as it is in higher income areas.

Having lost my grandmother who lived in a village in Nigeria without access to health care to a pretty minor heart problem, I set a goal when I was young to become a cardiologist. I wanted to go to college, but I didn’t know how to get there. For me, not having college counseling was like a football team expecting to get to the Super Bowl without a coach. I graduated from high school with good grades, but still had not applied for college. After I graduated I felt devastated and disappointed with myself, because I knew that this was the only way out for me and I wasn’t making it happen. I was nervous to even tell my parents. When they found out I had to wait another semester to enter college, they were disappointed and thought I wasn’t doing all I could to get into college. I was lucky to get help from Oasis/Community IMPACT, a youth empowerment initiative in East Nashville that helped me take the necessary steps to get into college.

Not every kid is going to be this lucky, but our future should not be based on luck. There are a lot of students who want to be better in life, but our schools don’t have the resources to support all of them. There are a lot of other students like me who want to become doctors, lawyers or teachers, but if they are not supported, they will probably end up back on the streets. It pains me to see people I graduated with raising three kids by themselves, or selling drugs, or working for $5.25 an hour at Kroger (a local grocery store) when I know they have the potential to be something more in life. If this is their fate, then their burden will become the community’s burden.

My future should not be left up to chance and neither should the lives of other young people. We need to make sure that ALL of our public schools have college counseling, especially in schools that serve low-income communities, where the college counseling is not readily available through other sources like parents, mentors, and friends, as it is in higher-income areas. We know for a fact that if we educate our children, the crime rate in our community will drop, our community will be strong economically, and our world will be a better place. Everybody in the community has to work hand in hand to make sure that every child who wants to go to college receives adequate support and has the opportunity to do so. According to the United Negro Fund, “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.” We all have to stand together to make sure that the minds of the young people in our community are not being wasted. If we support the educational dreams of students, I can assure you that our community will be a better place and so will our world.

 

Bethany Paschall, Age 17

My name is Bethany Paschall and I have always been an advocate of post-secondary education because my parents have instilled in me the desire to continue my education even after high-school graduation. Over the years, the drive to do this within me has increased because I have come to the full understanding of not only the benefits of college but also of the consequences of not attaining a college degree. My daddy had to pay his own way through college even though his mother and father were around. He went to a local university for three years and then dropped out so that he and my mother could get married. Even though my mother supported his college education, he left anyway so that he could work full-time to provide for their marriage. My mother did not go to college at all. Because of this, they have always told me that they want me to “do better than they did,” and consequently, they have provided the motivation that I need to strive on academically.

It’s sad to hear some of my friends say that they cannot go to college. When asked why, some say that they can not afford it; some say they are not smart enough; some say they do not know exactly what to do to get there; some just plainly say that they are scared.

While enrolling in courses for my sophomore year of high school, I was blessed to be recommended for the AVID program. I am currently in this program under the facilitation of Mrs. Priscilla Marable. This program has exposed me to different levels of critical thinking, organizational skills, academic tutoring, better studying methods, and help with the college process such as preparing for different entrance tests, applying for scholarships and other financial aid, and other tools that are necessary to my college-prep education. I am also afforded the opportunity to visit different universities both in Nashville and outside of town. Last year, I visited Middle Tennesee State University with my AVID class, and now, I hope to attend that school after I graduate. I also receive additional help from my guidance counselor due to the fact that I am an AVID student. This is the kind of benefit AVID offers that is not part of our standard curriculum. It’s like Mrs. Marable said in an interview: “I make sure that MY students are taken care of…that’s all I can do.” In other words,
we know she is looking out for us and is going to make sure we get what we need to get to college.

Unfortunately, since I have been enrolled in this outstanding program, I have also seen how some of my friends that are not in the program are neglected in some ways. Many of them are not educated about, and not supported in, the college application process. They don’t have an AVID teacher looking out for them. Because of this, many have just pushed the dream of college out of their mind. Since guidance counselors already have so many tasks, they cannot possibly meet the needs of every student. This is sad especially since so many students would like to attend college, but since they are not aware of the necessary tools to get there they do not go. This is a MAJOR issue to me. It’s sad to hear some of my friends say that they cannot go to college. When asked why, some say that they cannot afford it; some say they are not smart enough; some say they do not know exactly what to do to get there; some just plainly say that they are scared. This bothers me so much especially when at one point in time I felt that same way. Thankfully, I was saved from this situation. Once I received the information and support that I needed, I understood that the “dream” of college could be a reality for me. Now, I feel obligated to pass on this knowledge that I have to others so that I may help change the odds for them.

If you are reading this now, I would like to personally thank you from the bottom of my heart for valuing not only my opinion, but youth everywhere. I hope that you will take in all of the knowledge we are sharing with you and try to promote our ideas as well as help others to understand their importance.

 

Trenton Easley, Age 16

My name is Trenton Easley and I remember my freshman year when I signed a Four Year Plan but I did not even take the classes that I chose. I want to know what is the point of me signing a piece of paper if I’m not going to take the classes I want? In my sophomore year, I only got to see my guidance counselor once. I will probably only get to see her once my junior year too! How am I supposed to know about the college admissions process if I cannot receive college counseling? My school never explained to me about the importance of the SAT, ACT, PSAT. I want to get into a good college, but I have never been put in or recommended for honors classes. Last year was my sophomore year and I only had two teachers supporting me, but if I had all my teachers supporting me I would have more ambition to work harder my junior and senior years. Sometimes, I feel that I have been wasting my time for two years. Now, when I got to high school, I had the ambition to go to college, but after two years of school it feels like I am at school for nothing.

 

Sarah Allen, Age 19

As a white, middle class, youth from West Nashville with two college-educated parents, I am an anomaly at Oasis/Community IMPACT, to say the least. I had the opportunity to work there this summer however, as an intern, researching and writing alongside my peers in order to help prepare this report on college access from the youth perspective. As the white girl from the other side of town, and a graduate of Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet, I believe that I have brought a unique perspective to the table—that of an outsider, and in all likelihood one very similar to many of this report’s readers. Hearing about these experiences and conditions for the first time, I continually played the role of reactor, appalled by the vast inequities between the experiences described by my new CI friends and what any outsider, I believe, would consider an adequate opportunity for a quality education.

I went to a Metro Nashville public school myself, and as a result, thought that I had a pretty good idea of what the world was really like. But working at CI, I have realized that I knew very little about the “real world,” and though I recognize that my understanding is still very limited, my perspective has undoubtedly been greatly widened as a result of this experience. As someone who grew up surrounded by family, friends, and mentors who attended college, and someone who, beginning at a young age, was asked to the point of annoyance about my college plans, there was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to college. I found no surprise in my academic magnet school’s constant emphasis on college beginning my freshman year, the continual stream of college representatives passing through our front hall, the mandatory PSAT for all underclassmen, the small meetings with the guidance counselors on a regular basis throughout my junior and senior year, the freedom to drop by my guidance counselor’s office at my own convenience to ask her a question or two. Though I knew my school was an academic magnet and unusual in that respect, it never even occurred to me that it was possible for a Metro Public Schools student on the college track to go through four years of high school without ever knowing where the guidance office was located, or speaking to a college representative, or being asked by anyone, “So where do you want to go to college?”

The experience of working with CI made me realize that some people begin, and many unfortunately end, high school with a a very limited understanding of college. Knowledge that individuals in middle- and upper-class communities acquire through families and social networks beginning at a very young age, such as the importance and benefits of college, never reaches many East Nashville students. For those in higher income communities, schools do not have to assume a zero knowledge base of college. They can build on what has already been taught, both officially and unofficially by parents and friends. Yet in schools where only 20-25 percent of parents have a college degree and only 10 percent of entering freshmen ultimately go on to college, the support must start at the veryn beginning, with the numerous benefits of college and exactly what it takes to get there, with constant reminders and reinforcements along the way. Providing the online resources, the college and ACT prep books, the scholarship packets in the office are all necessary, but they alone are not enough. The invaluable resource of people actively working to promote college and support and motivate students is essential. Without this support, the entire system will falter.


These stories come from a 2012 report by Oasis College Connection (at the time called Nashville College Connection), entitled, College Access from the Inside Out. The report, written by students in East Nashville, TN, examined barriers to college access from the perspective of the students themselves. Barriers identified include being first generation college students, lack of guidance counseling in high school, and income barriers. The point of this paper, the authors noted, was not to tell student’s stories of “beating the odds.” The point is to use the first-hand experience of students to help “change the odds” of getting into college for all students in schools who dream of going to college. SparkAction and the Forum for Youth Investment believes that sharing the important perspectives above remains relevant, even though the report is no longer online.

 

For more information, we invite you to read the Forum’s report, Core Principles for Engaging Young People in Community Change (2015).

 

This article was originally published in 2006 and was reviewed and updated in 2018 by Zenzele Franklin, digital fellow with SparkAction.