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Place, Not Race -- Part 1

If you work in public education--specifically secondary education--you know now that it's the time when students' plans are solidified for the fall. College acceptance, deferment, and rejection letters are arriving, and students are starting to get their financial aid packages from universities.

I remember being in high school and how the process was so new to me. I was a first-generation college graduate, and my dad didn't know much about the process other than applying. (Applying to college was actually how I convinced him to get high speed internet; until then, we had dial-up, and I couldn't get the applications to load.)

I knew I had to fill out the FAFSA because my counselors told me to. I knew I had to check for deadlines because my counselors told me to. The list goes on and on of topics and deadlines that I heard from others about. I knew little about the expected family contribution (EFC); I just knew that my dad couldn't help much when it came to paying for my education. He was a single parent with three kids.

For the first time in my adult life, I heard other students discussing their EFCs during lunch in my classroom.
Why is my number higher than yours? 
Why is yours so low? Your family is rich. 
So this means...? 

I heard questions and statements like this coming from students as they tried to make sense of where they fell in terms of financial assistance. And some of them began trying to make sense of the differences in life circumstances.

And then I started to hear from other students, students who I label as "in the bubble" when it comes to financial aid. Their families make just enough to disqualify them from Pell Grants and subsidized loans.

When I was having these conversations with students, several of them shifted to say something along the lines of

If only I were... 

And I stopped them. I knew where this was going. I remember being there, too, in high school when I was waitlisted at my now alma mater, the University of Michigan. But it's this type of in-fighting that prevents any real conversations of understanding from actually taking place. Students began to view each other as weaker competition.

Had I been faster on my feet, I would've shown the age-old cartoon about equity that I used to share with my English 10 students



This is part of the reason why I'm so excited to write the second part of this post, where I consider some of the things I learned from Place, Not Race by Sheryll Cashin.

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