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Mending the Gap of Achievement

The+UCSB+Pathways+class+is+held+during+7th+period+in+room+H-13.+A+resident+UCSB+tutor+informs+students+of+the+upcoming+MESA+Day+at+UCSB+with+a+presentation+on+Feb.+12.
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Mending the Gap of Achievement

The UCSB Pathways class is held during 7th period in room H-13. A resident UCSB tutor informs students of the upcoming MESA Day at UCSB with a presentation on Feb. 12.

The UCSB Pathways class is held during 7th period in room H-13. A resident UCSB tutor informs students of the upcoming MESA Day at UCSB with a presentation on Feb. 12.

Photo credit: Maya Al Sabeh

The UCSB Pathways class is held during 7th period in room H-13. A resident UCSB tutor informs students of the upcoming MESA Day at UCSB with a presentation on Feb. 12.

Photo credit: Maya Al Sabeh

Photo credit: Maya Al Sabeh

The UCSB Pathways class is held during 7th period in room H-13. A resident UCSB tutor informs students of the upcoming MESA Day at UCSB with a presentation on Feb. 12.

By Maya Al Sabeh, News Editor

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Senior Ada Higuera, clicked submit as her final college application was sent out, “That’s one less application to worry about and now we’re moving on to the next,” Higuera said, sighing at the relief of another ‘Thank you for applying!’ notification.

For Higuera, submitting her college applications is one of the most valuable milestones in her family. As the daughter of two Mexican-American immigrants who were unable to attend four-year institutions, the act of pressing the submit button is one trailing with a sense of perseverance and success.

Learning to embrace the blessings of her native tongue and culture was never an issue for Higuera, yet there were times in her childhood that tried her confidence in her background.

“As a child, when I first came to school I didn’t exactly know English because I was a native Spanish speaker,” Higuera said. “It was definitely hard for me.”

Upon beginning her high school career at Dos Pueblos, Higuera experienced feats which left her feeling ‘different’ from other students on campus. At this time, the language barrier was broken—no longer posing as a challenge to her at school. What left her bounded were the inherent labels of advanced classes.

“Coming into high school, it was a big change, especially now that I was taking honors classes,” Higuera said. “There were instances were I was the only Hispanic person in that class and it did feel a bit like ‘What am I doing here?’ I felt a bit out of place.”

For many students in underrepresented communities, this is a mere reality of high school and academics. It is a constant attempt to deviate from what seems to be an inherent “second best” title in classrooms. The reality of an unlevel playing field for these students is something central to the phenomena of education inequality.

Education inequality, at its root, is the unequal distribution of academic resources; its main victims being communities historically disadvantaged. Despite the nation’s continued emphasis on social equality, education equality seems to be fading out of discussion.

In the midst of this reality, many DP programs are trying to provide the necessary support to give students an equal chance at a brighter future.

The on-campus AVID program, short for Advancement Via Individual Determination, is centered around helping students become first-generation college students and provides learners with the resources and encouragement necessary to prepare them for higher education.

Nancy Gomez, AVID counselor at DP believes that the objective of the program is to work on leveling the unequal playing field for less privileged students.

“Avid is mostly geared towards students who are college bound, but that just might need a little extra support to get them to college,” Gomez said. “Underrepresented students don’t necessarily have the same access to resources that other students do, so that is definitely one of the reasons why the AVID program has been implemented.”

The national achievement gap in schools has been recognized by multiple studies for having a direct relationship with income inequality, affecting certain socioeconomic groups more than others. According to Maria D. Theodorakakis, author of the Religions article “The Impact of Economic Inequality on Children’s Development and Achievement,” two-thirds of the achievement gap can be attributed to societal inequality. Furthermore, she shares that the gap between students from affluent and low-income families remains stagnant from kindergarten well into high school and higher education.

Gomez explains how these coexisting phenomenons are further motivation for the program to organize free workshops and SAT Prep Courses in collaboration with Cal-SOAP, also known as the California Student Opportunity and Access Commission. This serves to redefine education and knowledge as a right for these students and not merely a ‘good’ or ‘product.’

Numerous hours of AVID tutorials and workshops equipped Higuera with the right tools to make her college application process easier. What was most beneficial for Higuera was the guidance of teachers and advisors in the program.

“Going into senior year, I knew the application process was going to be difficult” Higuera said. “But with AVID we had our counselor there, our teachers there; one of my teachers Mr. Mckee actually created his own UC app and Cal State app and walked us through the entire process, so we did everything together.”

The AVID program requires that students take two honors/AP courses during their high school career to truly strengthen their college portfolios. For Higuera, finding the courage and confidence to take these classes was largely due to the unconditional support from the AVID community.

“They really encourage you to take classes that are more rigorous,” said Higuera, “but they don’t just tell you ‘here, deal with it on your own,’ they provide you with lots of feedback on your progress and personal support so that you’re able to complete those courses.”

These classroom experiences are ones that the AVID community recognizes as stepping stones for ultimately succeeding in other competitive classes.

“A lot of times it can be intimidating to ask for help from teachers, especially if they are in these honors courses and are one of those underrepresented students in those classes,” Gomez said. “So we teach them how to be advocates for themselves and that it is ok to go and ask and not be afraid to seek help.”

Another on-campus program that is encouraging students to aim beyond the limitations imposed by their backgrounds is the UCSB Pathways program, coordinated by Adrienne Gutierrez.

For Gutierrez, the prevalent achievement gap has diminished in the past ten years that she has been a member of the DP community.

“In the ten years that I have been coordinating this program, I’ve seen an increase of the diversity of students in advanced classes,” Gutierrez said. “I think that’s a big indicator that many of them feel more comfortable with that idea and have enough mentors and support to feel comfortable that it is something they can do.”

The increased enrollment of underrepresented students in honors/AP classes is surely a positive progression, however enrollment in these courses does not guarantee success. The UCSB Pathways’ biggest concern is ensuring that the students perform well in those classes.

“The first hurdle is making sure students enroll in the class,” Gutierrez said. “The second hurdle is making sure that the students have the support, resources, and the confidence to be successful in those classes.”

The biggest service which the program offers to students is their after school tutoring. DP is one of the few high schools which collaborates with the program to hold a 7th period UCSB Pathways class.

“We try to recruit tutors who come from similar backgrounds so they can serve as mentors and the students personally relate to them on that level,” Gutierrez said. “That’s kind of where we try to focus most of our energy—teaching them good study skills and supporting them, especially if it may be their first time in an honors class.”

The Pathways program, having a mission similar to AVIDS’, helps students who come from low-income or underrepresented backgrounds—including students with disabilities or LGBTQ backgrounds—so that they have resources necessary for future college success.

In the early 2000’s, the UC system recognized a need to create support programs like Pathways for students. In its infancy, the program followed a group of Isla Vista Elementary School students into Goleta Valley Junior High School and then to DP, guiding them in their academic career. Proving to be a successful addition to schools, the UC system made it a priority to continue the funding and success of the program.

As AVID and Pathways play a positive role in diminishing the achievement gap in Goleta, communities nationwide continue to struggle in their efforts for equality. Baltimore City’s recent school closures due to a lack of school resources is a blatant and terrifying example of the impacts of education inequality.

Diffusing educational programs nationwide can inspire students like Ada Higuera to be confident in their futures and abilities: breaking the boundaries imposed by educational disparities.

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