Chapter 4: Frustration and Hope – A Day in My Life
[Editor’s Note: Amy Browender ’13, Kyle Ruedinger ’13, Elizabeth Brown ’13, and Jessie Lillis ’13 are writing alternating monthly entries for the Ripon College Newsletter chronicling their post-graduation experiences. We hope you enjoy their perspectives on Life After Ripon!]
The beginning of February marked my fifth full month of service with College Possible. It’s a number that’s still a little astonishing to me, particularly in the sense that I’ve done and learned so much since when I began; most days I’m still working through things and doing my best to find my footing. However, I’m also feeling like this is the place I’m supposed to be, and that the skill set I gained through my experiences in college prepared me for what I’m doing on a daily basis. Assuming the responsibility of becoming an advocate for my students has made me value my time as an individual, and it’s made me realize just how much power we each have to make a change — even if it takes some time.
I’ve realized that I haven’t really shared what my job looks like on this blog, so I suppose now is as good a time as any. While I don’t ever seem to have a typical day, much of what I do revolves around the face-to-face time I have with my students. I usually begin my mornings with some logistical and organizational work at our home office in Saint Paul, which is just a short drive from my house. It’s there that I get to interact with non-coaching staff members who are based at this office and who do so much of the behind-the-scenes work that enables our program to succeed and continue to grow in the Twin Cities.
From this office, my coworker and I head to our school in North Minneapolis. Establishing meaningful friendships after college was something that I was a little nervous about before my term of service began, but I couldn’t have asked for a better individual to work so closely with on a daily basis. We often complete the other’s sentences (we’re spending about 50 hours a week within 12 feet of one another), and our students have grown to rely on both of us, just as we have with each other; we emphasize that our cohorts aren’t two separate groups each under the direction of one individual; instead, we’re one big family.
Once we arrive at school, I’ll do any number of different tasks. I’m constantly following up with students regarding things like the completion of their FAFSAs or checking in with their schools to get information on their application status. I’ll frequently have meetings with staff members at the school, and I usually meet with students to review the material we’re talking about in our after-school sessions. The days fly by, and by the time 3:00 rolls around, it’s time for session.
Each student is required to attend two, two-hour sessions a week. We cover the same material on Monday and Tuesday, and then have a new curriculum on Wednesday and Thursday. It’s currently financial aid season, so our top priority is getting our students to submit their FAFSA and learn about budgeting for school and their future. I appreciate our current emphasis on financial literacy, because the fiscal burden of college will still be large for the vast majority of our students. While our overall goal is to get our students into school and ensure they persevere and ultimately graduate from college, it would be irresponsible not to equip them with these life skills. Our hope is that, through our sessions, they will be independent and responsible adults when they arrive on campus, and they’ll feel confident that they’ve been prepared for what’s next. Sharing these skills and knowledge will allow our students to determine a future on their own terms.
So far, one of my barometers for progress in my current position has been marked by feelings of frustration and helplessness. Realizing that the odds are stacked against my students — even if they do absolutely everything right — makes it hard to remain optimistic at times, and I’ve felt that more frequently as the year has progressed. There are so many barriers that create setbacks and limit their options; the playing field is so far from level. However, the persistence that they exhibit every day is what makes me confident that they’ll succeed; it also gives me hope that their experiences could someday lead to sweeping changes in the educational system of this country.
I see many things when I’m at school. Working with my students forces me to face that short-end of the stick that we offer our low-income neighbors and friends. I see the realities of political bureaucracy, the tireless commitment of educators in spite of budget cuts, and the far-reaching potency of structural racism in our schools.
But I also see hope. Sometime in the future, my students will be educators, mechanics, community leaders, politicians, hair stylists, PhD candidates, electrical engineers, plumbers, and pastors. One or two may even be a Ripon College graduate or a College Possible Coach. All of them, however, will always be determined dreamers, and all of them will know more about the realities of America than I ever will. My greatest hope is that they find positive ways to express their struggles, victories, setbacks and sources of encouragement, and that they share them with others. Between the beginning of my day at 9:00 AM to the end of it at 8:00 PM, I find no shortage of frustrations, but I’m also never far from someone who’s prepared and determined to make their future brighter than their past.
Amy J. Browender ’13
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