California Educator

September 2014

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Perspectives Review fi lm illustrates need for more counselors By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin W H AT C A N S C H O O L S do to help poor kids attend top colleges and succeed once they enroll? The answer is plenty, according to First Gen- eration, a compelling documentary that follows four California students struggling to become the fi rst in their families to graduate from college. The need for more counselors is demon- s t r a t e d c o n s i s t e n t ly t h r o u g h o u t t h e f i l m , produced by Jaye and Adam Fenderson, whose camera crew followed four low-income high school students from their junior year to gradu- ation and beyond. College is clearly the best way to break the cycle of poverty for these hardworking, ethnically diverse students. Guid- ance counselors are sorely needed to help them navigate through the application and financial aid process so they can achieve what comes more easily to those from more affluent families with col- lege-educated parents. However, the counsel- ors in the film are clearly stretched to the breaking point. The movie reiter- ates that the ratio of high school students to counsel- ors is 800:1. (According to the California Department of Education, the ratio of K-12 students to counselors is 945:1.) And that means some students fall through the cracks. We see a student who is surprised to learn that he should have taken physics for UC eligibility. We see two who are not strongly urged to apply to top colleges, even though they have great grades and high SAT scores. This jibes with a recent study that concludes poor students with high test scores and top grades don't apply to top colleges, not realiz- ing they may have better f i n a n c i a l a i d p a c k a ge s than so-called affordable c a m p u s e s . T h e 2 0 1 3 s t u d y " T h e M i s s i n g 'One-Offs': The Hidden Supply of High-Achiev- i n g , L o w - I n c o m e Students" by Caroline M . H ox by o f S t a n f o rd and Christopher Avery of Harvard fi nds that out of 35,000 underserved students with excellent grades, only 8 percent applied to a prestigious university in 2013. Sadly, students in the film don't know how to navigate the maze of Fed- eral Student Aid, fi ll out fi nancial aid profi les, seek loan counseling, or write compelling personal essays to accompany their applica- tions. Were there no classes at their schools conducted by counselors on these topics? Most schools have them, but these students are fl oundering on their own. The fi lm is frustrating. One 4.0 student is not aware that her $50 application fee would be waived at UC cam- puses due to her low economic situation, so she doesn't apply because she can't afford it. She ends up in commu- nity college. Another student with a middling GPA is not deterred from applying to Harvard, which is obviously money wasted. A student abandoned by her parents, who seems to be on track for a full UCLA scholarship, chokes at the last minute and writes a weak personal essay because she doesn't want admission offi cers to pity her. Clearly some coaching could help. A student who makes it into a CSU campus doesn't succeed after the fi rst semester, because he is more focused on partying than studying. Takeaways from the film, in addition to the need for more counselors, are: Cecilia Lopez failed to realize her dream of attending UCLA. She encourages other students to avoid the mistakes she's made. It is important to educate high school students about strategies to succeed once they are enrolled in college as they transition to living away from home. Only 21 percent transfer from community colleges to four-year colleges. 24

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