A fatherless daughter responds

I grew up without a father. I knew his name, I had an old photo (until I lost it), and I knew he served in the Air Force, but I did not know much else about my father. So recently, when I read Experts Divided Over Impact of Absent Father-themed College Admission Essays, those old memories came to the surface. Life was a struggle for my mom as a single parent and I learned many lessons from her, some that are becoming clearer as I grow in wisdom that comes with age.

In the aforementioned article, experts give their opinions on how fatherless, low –income, minority aspiring college students should address their life circumstances in that critical college admission essay.  Having lived that life, let me share some of my thoughts with you about what made a difference in my life and what an admissions office might learn in an essay I was writing today. Applying to college was easier back in the day, but it still had challenges for a first-generation college student.

My mom, a high school dropout, introduced me to the library (the South Providence branch on Prairie Avenue in Providence, RI) when I was five years old, which turned out to be a life changer for me. Books and education became my lifeblood and she saw that in me all those years ago. I could write about how watching her raise her children and work several jobs to buy a home gave me a strong work ethic, while instilling a lifelong belief in the power of education because she lacked a formal one and that narrowed her options. I could tell the story of the school counselor who told me as an eighth- grader that “my people didn’t go to college”. He suggested I set my sights on being a school secretary like Mrs. Varela, who looked like me. Despite being in the top academic group (my school district assigned students to academic tracks back then), having As and Bs, and receiving an A on my career research paper (I wanted to be a teacher since 5th grade), he believed in a different pathway than the one I dreamed of for me. College challenged me the first two years; I had access, but I was not sure how to navigate all the moving parts of college. Looking at my transcript from Rhode Island College (RIC) tells the story; shaky grades the first two years, then an epiphany the last two years on how to do college.

I could talk about my student teaching experience at Central High School, my alma mater. The previous semester, one of my best friends completed her student teaching there and received Honors. We had the same supervising instructor from RIC as history majors and he believed that I would not be as successful as she was because we have different personalities. She is outgoing, brash, and makes her presence known in a good way and I am more on the quiet side. I set out to prove him wrong. One day he came to observe me when there had been some unrest at the school, so the students were still feeling the effects of the charged atmosphere. With my quiet personality, I walked them through a review of the next day’s test, deflected repeated requests for bathroom breaks and visits to the nurse’s office, all while commanding the students’ respect and attention. You would have thought I performed a miracle from the way he gushed in my classroom that day and on subsequent observations; low expectations were in full bloom.  All I did was apply the lessons of hard work demonstrated daily by my mother. By the way, I received Honors in student teaching, too.

Daily, I apply myriad lessons from a mother who did not let me define myself as a statistic as a fatherless daughter. Thank you Mom.

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May 2021 Update

Professional development continues to be a major factor in my work life. With physical visits to campuses curtailed during 2020 (most are re-opening for in-person visits), I spend about 7 -10 hours per week on virtual visits with college admission counselors. The IECA, one of my professional organizations, regularly conducts College Conversations, an hour-long presentation with time built in for Q & A. To date, members of IECA had sessions with the colleges on the chart. Additionally, I added to this list by facilitating sessions in my capacity as the college counselor for the Montessori School of Raleigh where, along with the students, we learned more about UNC Charlotte, UNC Wilmington, the College of Wooster, Queens University of Charlotte, Muhlenberg, Elon, Western Carolina, North Carolina Central, the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Did you know UNC Wilmington has a major in Coastal Engineering or that Western Carolina (along with UNC Pembroke and Elizabeth City State) is a NC Promise institution? A NC Promise school’s in-state tuition is $500 while non-residents pay $2500 per semester.

Our virtual world allows for hours upon hours of accessible college information sessions. I had to step back and limit myself to a reasonable number of hours of “college visits”.

I challenge my students regularly to move beyond their comfort zone and during the height of the pandemic, I stretched myself way beyond my level of comfort. I am one of 14 co-authors of Becoming The Shero, an anthology depicting the journeys of entrepreneurs at different stages of their lives. My story is in the Embracing the Pivot section.

Another way I stay current is through my new position at Providence College. As of August 2020, I am the College Supervisor for the School Counseling Program. What does the college supervisor do? I supervise the students in the program during their 2-semester internship at a school, where they are directly supervised by their Site Supervisor, a certified professional school counselor. It is the student teaching equivalent for school counseling.

Reading is a daily pleasure for me. Here are nine books (not in chronological order) that helped me to educate myself about current events and issues of social justice:

  • Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents ~ Isabel Wilkerson
  • How to Be An Anti-Racist ~ Ibram X. Kendi
  • Stamped From The Beginning ~ Ibram X. Kendi
  • I’m Still Here ~ Austin Channing Brown
  • The Color Of Law ~ Richard Rothstein
  • We Want To Do More Than Survive ~ Bettina Love
  • Down Along With That Devil’s Bones ~ Connor Towne O’Neill
  • Interrupting Racism: Equity and Social Justice in School Counseling ~ Rebecca Atkins & Alicia Oglesby
  • Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race ~ Beverly Daniel Tatum, Ph.D.

To stay up-to-date on trends in college, career and paying for college, see my list of books under the “Parent Resources” tab.

I challenge my students to be lifelong readers. I am practicing what I preach. What are you reading today?

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