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The Relationship Between Poverty and Educational Opportunities (Guest Post by Alejandrina Franco)

“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.


19 thoughts on “The Relationship Between Poverty and Educational Opportunities (Guest Post by Alejandrina Franco)

  1. Reblogged this on elketeaches.

    Posted by elketeaches | July 21, 2012, 12:31 am
  2. Alejandrina, your path mirrors my own. Even down to the education of our parents, my parents were Cuban immigrants in Miami, FL, only my mother was the one who made it to the 8th grade and my father only made it to the 6th grade. A bit uncanny. I too grew up in poverty and my dad always told me that if you get an education you will be to choose a career instead of a career choosing you. Same message, an education opens up more opportunities.

    I don’t want is to lose hope in this country because then we might stop fighting. But you’re right about the gap between the haves and the have nots. I’ve written my state legislators because even on a teacher’s salary with a Masters and a National Board certificate, plus other endorsements I can barely support my family of four. Not what you wanted to hear, I’m sure, but something we must fight to change. So keep fighting and become a teacher, not because it will make you rich but because it is your calling. That’s why we teach!

    Posted by Alfonso Gonzalez (@educatoral) | July 21, 2012, 1:21 pm
    • Thank you. For my parents, a great education is all they could ever hope for me to inherit. They’ve supported me in my education in more ways than just parent-teacher conferences and school fundraisers. I am thankful for that every day. I’ve learned more from them and from our life experiences than I ever did in a public school classroom.

      I agree. One does not enter the teaching profession to become rich. However, teachers should not have to risk living in poverty in order to pursue their calling.

      I chose to become a teacher because I felt it was my calling. I actually went to college with the intention of becoming a doctor because I wanted to save lives. Who knew that I would be saving lives by instilling hope in a child’s ability to live out their dreams? There’s not enough money in the world that could replace that feeling.

      Posted by Alejandrina Franco (@afranco6) | July 22, 2012, 2:22 am
  3. Wow, this is a tough, heartbreaking situation … It’s clear to me that this young lady will break the grip of poverty; as she writes, she has the support system that will enable this to happen. What about others in her HS class? What about others without that support system? Is this young lady wrong to want things to happen (such as the Capital Scholars) because she’s qualified?

    There are two clear thoughts one would expect if individuals were polled. One would suggest that of course if a person meets the qualifications – except for the finances, there should be public funding to enable this to happen. After all, look at what’s been accomplished to date … We are the land of opportunity … The diversity such participants offer enriches the experiences for all …

    The second is that associated with the need to expect it will take time, there’s no entitlement. This is the land of opportunity but she needs to expect to meet all the requirements for participation. There are no entitlements with regard to funds available … Continue working hard …

    For these “funding only” situations, I would argue there should be a better alternative to these two. I don’t know of course what that alternative is and, for sure, don’t see it being easy to find; but there is one … What’s most troubling in this regard is the polarization in our country today, the total lack of dialogue between those who identify with each of the two positions.

    But what about the other issues? What about those not having the support network? Ironically, one hears and reads conflicting suggestions similar to the ones outlined above – just more extreme. One would suggest supplying more funds to break the grip of poverty. The other would suggest doing nothing until “they show some initiative” or something similar.

    Because it’s a more challenging issue, the alternatives will be more complicated. I’d suggest it would start with what I’ve called a local Edication Community identifying and addressing the local issues. I’m also thinking the ideas in another Cooperative Catalyst posting, Redefining Public Education, make a great deal of sense and should be considered by this Community.

    What IS very clear to me is that NEITHER of the two extreme positions will ever work! We need broad public empathy for our problems; broad engagement is identifying, understanding, and dealing with those problems; and subsequently broad celebration of the return to the vision of this country held by the founding leaders of the country.

    Posted by John Bennett | July 21, 2012, 1:41 pm
  4. Is the only way out of poverty through a great education OR … being grounded in a strong sense of SELF/Self-knowledge that leads to Discovery of Purpose & Calling, which then facilitates the best education path needed? Perhaps education alone, especially the prevalent emphasis on “getting that four-year degree to be successful”, does not suffice.

    I understand your frustration Alejandrina. You have eloquently shared important ideas in your post. Many believe education is a priority in the US and a means of escaping poverty. It is critical to have post-secondary education to enable one to compete in the US labor force, with 70% of projected job openings over the next decade requiring a minimum of education and training from a community college, and for some jobs, education beyond this level. Do we put our funding where our collective stated priorities are? I don’t believe we do, as Elketeaches, your previous commenter, indicated.

    Teachers’ Income and Poverty
    It’s unfortunate that the US does not offer all educators, especially K12, the salary that is commensurate with their responsibilities associated with developing and reinforcing character and values, appropriate “work” habits and attitudes, fairness, teamwork, innovative and critical thinking, and so much more, in addition to a critical content curriculum that focuses on reading, writing, math, science, social science, the arts, etc., all of which support a young citizen who WILL be prepared to make a successful transition to LIFE after high school, whether that be work, education, the military, whatever.

    What’s needed is more accurate assessment of the value of teachers by all stakeholders, and a willingness to make education a national priority, so all educators are paid to do the EDUCATION JOB that needs to be done, to produce a citizenry that accomplishes the REST of what needs to be done.

    Women’s Income and Poverty
    In 1963, women earned only 58 cents for every dollar earned by men who held the same job and did the same work, and President John Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act making it illegal for employers not to pay women equal wages. Almost five decades later, women have gained less than a half a penny a year, and now earn about 77 cents for every dollar a man earns for the same job doing the same work with the same education. The disparity is even greater for women of color!

    This is not only a political issue, but at its core, a moral issue. I strongly believe women and men, and all youth, need to be more informed about this pay gap and must be willing to fight for equal pay for equal work. It is morally wrong that such little progress has taken place these past five decades.

    Some estimates indicate that if equal pay was truly enacted and enforced, their annual family incomes would rise by approximately $4000, and this would reduce the poverty rates in America by half—a noble goal indeed. The age gap is unfair and must change, now!

    Education Reform
    Effective education reform will take another two decades. NOW is the time for a non-defensive dialogue about the role of education in our society with all stakeholders, and especially those with whom we entrust this sacred vocation, their special calling.

    Two decades seems like a long time, but as someone wise once said, “The best two times to plant a tree are 50 years ago….and today!”

    ** #schools2life Tweet Chat (2nd/4th Thursdays 8-9pmEDT Plus LinkedIn Support Site for Group Discussions at

    If you and any of your readers/colleagues are interested, we have initiated a NEW Tweet Chat #schools2life to discuss many of these issues, and mostly to empower parents to be strong advocates with educators, AND to empower educators to join with parents and other stakeholders, to collaborate, and initiate the reforms needed to ensure a much more successful transition for all students to life after school.

    Perhaps we can join forces and your organization, Students for Education Reform, can start joining our Thursday evening Tweet Chats and participating on the LinkedIn support site schools2life link I have provided above.

    Thank you Alejandrina for your passion and willingness to stand up and use your voice to make a difference. I want you to know hard work and intelligence are ALWAYS rewarded. It’s just that sometimes the timing and manner of the ‘rewards’ are not always easily seen in the scope of our individual expectations. I hope someone with some funding can contact you and facilitate getting you, and others such as yourself, required funds to network and continue your calling. Meanwhile work with passion and you will continue to make a difference as you are doing today. The best to you, EdC

    Posted by Edward Colozzi (@EdwardColozzi) | July 21, 2012, 5:00 pm
    • Thank you, Edward Colozzi for your kind words.

      I’ve checked out your LinkedIn page and have joined the group. I have join a couple #EdChats via Twitter and have found them to be very productive and insightful. I will communicate this to my organization and see if we can join the discussion.

      There was an article that I read recently by a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District who stated that true school reform begins with social justice. Check out the full article here. I complete agree with this teacher.

      The real core problems in public education are poverty, inadequate funding, systematic inequality, and racism. In Arizona, poverty, lack of school funding, and racism play a huge role in whether a child will graduate and continue their education or drop out. The drop out rates here continue to increase, especially among Latinos. The community is disrespected by its government through outlandish politics. Budgets have been slashed leaving tons of great teachers without jobs or with extremely low salaries. In Yuma, almost all the public schools are C or D schools. According to the April 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics, Yuma ranked number 2 among 13 U.S. cities reporting unemployment rates above 15 percent. Yuma came in with an unemployment rate of 26 percent.

      An education alone may not take you out of poverty. It may not end poverty. However, keeping a child in school and on a path toward self-fulfillment and self-discovery just might. An education is a combination of your life experiences and academic knowledge. It is what helps opens your mind to the discovery of yourself and the world around you. However, children cannot tap into their potential and discover their sense of purpose if they are not going to school and if they are not being given the opportunity of a great education.

      There are many students who have overcome incredible obstacles. Some much greater than my own. A particular group of students that inspire me are the DREAMERS: undocumented students who want nothing more than to share their knowledge and passion with this great nation. I’ve heard some incredible stories about these students. Their work ethic and passion for social justice is addicting.

      Effective education reform will not happen if we have no desire to pursue other issues of social justice. If we know that education and poverty are linked, why aren’t more people fighting to end poverty? Why are we not fighting to end all other effects of poverty, such as crime, homelessness, hunger, etc.? Why aren’t more people fighting to end race and gender inequalities in our schools and our workforce? If we know what the REAL problems in public education are, why is more emphasis being put on standardized tests?

      I will continue to voice my opinion and share my story in hopes of inspiring others to do the same. This is a moral issue that affects the most vulnerable human beings–children. They are the reason why I teach and why I advocate strongly for them.

      Posted by Alejandrina Franco (@afranco6) | July 22, 2012, 4:25 am
    • Edward,

      I join you in expressing that, “This is not only a political issue, but at its core, a moral issue.”

      I see a moral issue that need not (but may be) tied to any religion; one that is directly tied to the relationships between one human being has with other humans and all that is around them. Listening to the mainstream voices in our Western, ‘capitalistic’ society, I am unable to detect even the most meager sign of Adam Smith’s “Invisible Hand” which, insofar as morals are concerned, would only involve refraining from killing the goose that lays the golden eggs — even that simple non-action would be a step in the right direction.

      I find the situation quite sad, but I remain hopeful.


      Posted by Brent Snavely | July 22, 2012, 6:40 am
  5. Such an inspiration! I will be sharing this story to my students of Mano Amiga Academy Philippines. They should have the same motto, “The only way out of poverty is through a great education.”

    Posted by Teacher Anne | July 22, 2012, 2:20 am
  6. I am from Thailand. education here is not that expensive as in the US. I came from a poor family in rural Thailand. When I read your story, I cried. It is just like my story. I had studied hard to earn my degrees from the US. People think I had good fortunes. It is a part. Without my own effort, i would make it through.

    I knew u will get success in your life. I believe poverties won’t make your opportunies down.

    Posted by Prasong Saihong | July 22, 2012, 5:22 am
  7. Alejandrina, This is a remarkable post, a mixture of righteous awesome anger, an emerging sense of justice, and a testament to the strength of your heart and mind. Thank you for writing it, for bringing your story to the COOP and for joining our ranks in remaking the education system in this country into something that is truly just and offers real opportunity for all.

    With respect,


    Posted by Kirsten | July 22, 2012, 1:22 pm
  8. Alejandrina, You may also want to check out these video summaries of a recent issue of Teachers College Record, particularly Gary Orfield’s piece called, “A Return To the Mexican Room,” especially about ESL education in Arizona and the southwest. Gary Orfield is the long-time co-leader of The Civil Rights Project, and a prof at UCLA.


    Posted by Kirsten | July 22, 2012, 1:49 pm
  9. I know exactly where you are coming from. Sometimes I feel like no matter how far along I get in school, like it won’t make a difference. I have always wanted to be a teacher, from the time I can remember, I always said I wanted to be a teacher. Now, that want is still but I also think about the financial part of my future. I have always wanted to have a huge family and I always think to my self if I am making the right move. But my desire to become a teacher always wins.

    My uncle was an educator and now he is in administration, and he even tells me to think about becoming a teacher. I remember when I first started college he asked me what I would be majoring and and I told him Education, it was as if he did not like the idea, maybe because he knows the system and wanted better for me. And even after three years, he advices me to even be a 5th year senior and switch my major. But I can’t. I love the kids, it’s my passion.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are sometimes, when I find myself asking What am I doing? What I am I getting myself into, but I think they are my moments of weakness. EVERY TIME I encounter a successful, wealthy person I ask myself, what did she/he do to have a lot of money. Because lets face it, in the world we live in, its a big necessity. And what I, a lot of the times, find is that their parents had something to do with the success or they have plenty of more resources then I or anyone in my family will ever have. And that’s where the gap come from too, and of course because of the fact that the rich live in better place with more resources than they poor.

    I applaud you for sticking with school even when times were really rough and you couldn’t do it anymore, it’s for the best and we both know that. I do not know about you, but compared to a lot of my friends, I am heading in a better direction and while there are times where I cannot do things because of money (not as cool and important as your opportunity) we need to remember that we are bettering ourselves and can provide those opportunities for our children in the future.

    Never give up. Be strong. Si se puede.

    Posted by A fellow Latina. | July 24, 2012, 1:20 am
    • thank you for sharing! The world is better off with teachers and people like you too!

      Thank you!

      Posted by dloitz | July 24, 2012, 1:27 am
    • I am always cautious when publishing or even telling my story to other people, but lately, I’ve noticed that it helps other people who may find themselves in the same situation. And the responses from others helps inspire me to keep going.

      I applaud you for sticking with education because we need more Latina/o teachers in our schools. Latinos are the largest growing minority in the United States with most of them being children. The children in our schools need people like you and me who have and are making it through the everyday struggle in order to show them that, “si se puede!” And show them that there is a world outside of their everyday reality. To show them that they are capable of bettering themselves and creating a better life for themselves through their hard work.

      I have found myself with a few Latina/o teachers and mentors who have served to me as inspiration to do what I do. They have gone through similar struggles and have made it. They are doing what they love. I hope to get there some day.

      I love to learn. I love to teach. And I love to inspire. And while money is hard to come by these days, especially in the teaching profession, no money in the world will ever amount to the feeling of impacting a child’s life. My mom has been a paraprofessional (teacher’s aide) for as long as I’ve been in school. When I told her that I wanted to become a teacher instead of a doctor, like I had planned, she wasn’t too happy. I grew up listening to stories about her experiences at school–the good and the bad. I always loved listening to those stories. The only work experience I had prior to college was with children. And it was the most enjoyable work experience. I love kids. Teaching was my calling and I don’t regret changing my career path.

      My parents understand my passion for teaching and education. They have come to realize that no matter how much they try to change my mind about it, I won’t give it up. I have plans about doing some scholarly work and publishing some books on education and teaching. That will be after I’ve been teaching for a few years or maybe even while I am teaching. Who knows?

      Gracias. Como dice el dicho, “Dios apriete pero no ahorca.”

      Posted by Alejandrina Franco (@afranco6) | July 24, 2012, 2:04 am
  10. Beautiful post, Alejandrina. And please, as you move into teaching, don’t forget the children who have all the same challenges AND they receive consistent negative feedback from the system because they think differently, learn differently. Because they are too energetic / creative / funny / independent / rebellious / intuitive / imaginative to do well in a sedentary, authoritarian, intellectually abstracted school system. Because they are from different cultural backgrounds with different values and ways of thinking from those favored in the American education system. They are poor AND they are being told day after day that they are not “deserving.” There are many ways the playing field is not level.

    Posted by Carol Black | July 27, 2012, 1:40 pm
    • Thank you, Carol. I feel that my problem going into teaching is going to be with the adults rather than the children. My problem is going to lie in fighting the dysfunctional public educational system. I will continue to document my stories as a public school teacher and a student advocate in hopes that it will bring about change.

      The time for a paradigm shift in public education has come. We need a system that will allow for democracy in the classroom and in the schools. We need schools that value the whole child, not just their test scores.

      There are some things that I cannot change. I cannot eliminate poverty. I wish I could. However, I can guarantee that I will do my best to remind my students that they ARE deserving; that they MATTER; and that they have the potential to succeed despite all odds.

      Posted by Alejandrina Franco (@afranco6) | July 28, 2012, 2:20 am


  1. Pingback: The Relationship Between Poverty and Educational Opportunities (Guest Post by Alejandrina Franco) | Educational Discourse | - July 23, 2012

  2. Pingback: The Relationship Between Poverty and Educational Opportunities (Guest Post by Alejandrina Franco) « Educational Discourse - July 23, 2012

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