“The only way out of poverty is through a great education.” This is what my parents told me throughout my life. My mother only went to school as far as 6th grade. My father went as far as 8th grade. Both had to stop going to school in order to help their families. Like most immigrants, my parents came to the U.S. in search of a better life for themselves and their children. And like most immigrant families, we lived in poverty. Until this day, our lives are constantly affected by poverty. However, my parents believed in the value of a great education. They encouraged us to stay in school and go to college. They believed that the more educated we were, the greater our opportunities to live a better life.
“The only way out of poverty is through a great education.” I lived my life by this motto, so I worked hard in school. I enrolled in honors and AP courses and maintained an “A/B” average GPA. I applied to colleges and universities and enrolled at Arizona State University. I attended a low-income school in a rural city on the southwest corner of Arizona. Like most low-income schools, great teachers were hard to come by. School funding was terrible. However, I did the best I could to be the first in my family to graduate high school and go to college.
I am currently a senior at Arizona State University. I am studying Elementary Education with an ESL (English as a Second Language) or bilingual endorsement. I have also co-founded an organization called Students for Education Reform. While my success is a result of my undying effort and passion for transforming education for the better, I can’t help but to feel there is a glass ceiling.
Around March of this year, I applied for an internship program in Washington D.C. called Capital Scholars and was accepted. I was excited to hear that I was accepted into the program, but I was worried about how much it would cost. Sometime in the fall, I had cried myself to sleep over the fact that I did not have enough money to pay for rent or even food. I had considered dropping out of college all-together, but with the help of a college professor, mentor, and dear friend I decided to stay. I found out that the five-week program was going to cost me about $9000 dollars. There was a scholarship that the program offered on a financial need basis. The scholarship ranged from $900-$2000 dollars. I would have to figure out how to pay for the rest. The Study Abroad Office said they could not offer any form of financial aid or scholarships for the Capital Scholars program because it was within the U.S. I had to turn down the offer because there was no way I could come up with the rest of the money to pay for the program. I already had a lot on my plate. I was stressed over money, my classes, and running Students for Education Reform. I couldn’t handle any more stress.
Several times I felt as if my hard work meant nothing. I felt that my hard work was never enough. I needed money. There was a time when hard work and intelligence was rewarded. But today it seems as if those things don’t matter anymore. I had to turn down a great opportunity, an opportunity I rightfully earned, because I could not afford it. I had done everything on my part to deserve this opportunity and no one was willing to meet me halfway by helping me pay for it.
Poverty can consume you and take you to some of the darkest places in your mind. It affects your health and wellbeing. The world around you seems so dark. You feel as though there is no light at the end of the tunnel. I would like to believe that my education will provide me with greater opportunities. I would like to believe that my education will provide me with the financial freedom I have been longing for. But the more I read about the economy and the widening of the gap between the rich and the poor, the more I realized that poverty and education are inadvertently linked. The wealthy have a better opportunity at receiving the best education while the poor are limited to their poorly funded public schools and poorly funded communities. Therefore, the wealthier students are more likely to have better opportunities than their poor counterparts. And we wonder why more and more poor students and students of color are dropping out? How do we expect a child to succeed academically if their basic survival needs, such as food and water, are not being met? How can educational policymakers and education reform leaders keep saying that poverty doesn’t matter?
I am fortunate to be as strong as I am and to have a strong support system to keep me going. Unfortunately, a lot of the children in our most impoverished communities and schools have lost all hope of ever being successful and leaving their impoverished lives. The rich and the poor have become so polarized that it has led people to believe that there are only two kinds of people in this world: those who are born rich and those who are born poor. The idea that the U.S. is a country with a merit-based economy has become clouded. I hope that my education and hard work will eventually help me break away from the chains of poverty. But until then I will continue to fight for myself and for all of those children who have lost hope in making it out of the darkness of poverty because it is necessary. It is crucial. We need to make sure that that light at the end of the tunnel never goes out.
Alejandrina Franco was born in Las Vegas, Nevada and raised in the rural border town of Yuma, Arizona. She is daughter of two immigrant parents and the first in her family to graduate high school and go to college. She is currently a senior at Arizona State University working on completing my degree in Elementary Education along with an ESL (English as a Second Language) and bilingual endorsement. I am also currently student teaching in a fifth grade classroom at Percy L. Julian Elementary School in South Phoenix. I am the co-founder and co-chapter leader of a student-led organization called Students for Education Reform at Arizona State University. I love learning and I love helping kids. My goals are ensure that every child has the opportunity to attain a great education and that every child has the resources necessary to reach their dreams.