Magazine article Momentum

Lamps under the Bushel Basket: Supporting First-Generation Students in Catholic Secondary Schools

Magazine article Momentum

Lamps under the Bushel Basket: Supporting First-Generation Students in Catholic Secondary Schools

Article excerpt

Applying to college can be a complex and difficult process, even for students whose parents have a college degree. For first-generation students, navigating the educational "pipeline" may be twice as challenging because of their limited "college knowledge" (Vargas, 2004). This hidden minority does not have the vocabulary necessary to define and navigate the steps needed to prepare for higher education, including basic admission procedures, applying for financial aid and making connections between desired career paths and required education. Defined as "first-generation," this student population does not benefit from the experiences of college-educated parents and family members by way of information sharing and goal setting. They are disadvantaged in understanding what skills, attitudes and abilities are necessary to successfully navigate the college experience (Horn & Nunez, 2000). Historically, these students have lower college attendance and college persistence; there is an access gap for students who are the first in their family to pursue higher education.

Framing the achievement patterns for underrepresented minority groups (especially Black and Latino) within a larger historical and social context (burdens of poverty, economic exploitation, segregation, and discrimination) is one way to understand the disproportionate pattern of lower educational achievement and attainment among first-generation and immigrant students. These larger issues not only afFect these students outside of the school setting, but they are likely to have severe consequences in their experience of school. Other challenges to their educational success include: (1) low aspirations for a college education and a lack of knowledge about college as an option (social capital) (Portes 8c Rumbaut, 2001); and (2) inadequate knowledge of social, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds of the contexts in which they now live, resulting in students feeling "marginalized in school" and feeling as though they "do not belong" (Gibson et al., 2004, p. 3).

With so little known about first-generation and immigrant (undocumented) students at Loyola High School in Los Angeles, the objective of our work was to explore and understand the educational experiences of first-generation students at the school. Our hope is to develop a "seamless system of support" for current first-generation students and those entering the school. Our work sought to explore and understand the educational experiences of our first-generation students by posing the following questions: "Are we effectively identifying first-generation students and offering a formal campus support network?" "What do they perceive as barriers to their schooling experience?" "What are the ways the school can support a "seamless educational pipeline" (into higher education) beginning in middle school?" Through a series in Momentum and NCEA Talk, our team is sharing this journey of our multi-level intervention program that supports first-generation and undocumented (immigrant) students in a single-gender (male) Catholic (Jesuit) secondary school.

Literature

Studies have found a correlation between the role of peers in schooling and academic performance and aspirations among U.S.-born and immigrant high school-aged youth (Gandara, O'Hara, 8c Gutierrez, 2004; Gibson, Bejinez, Hidalgo, 8c Rolon, 2004; Gibson, Gandara, 8c Koyama, 2004; Raley, 2004; Stanton-Salazar, 2004; Vigil, 2004), especially those of Mexican decent (Gibson et al., 2004). Peer influence, however, may take on several forms resulting in positive or negative outcomes. Gibson, O'Hara, and Gutierrez (2004) address three forms of influence. The first influence is direct pressure to engage in "risky behavior" which results in a reduced focus on schooling and an increased chance of getting into trouble and, ultimately, removed from school. The second form of influence operates by "pegging one's behavior according to others'." In other words, the one directly influenced by his or her peer wishes either to identify with that person (or group) or wishes not to. …

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