Anyone who has worked in a school can tell you that students can be tonic for the soul. Without realizing they are doing it, they pull us out of ourselves—our lousy morning, a bad mood, and even a really bad hair day. It is impossible to be focused on oneself inside a school because it is such a dynamic place full of kids who somehow morph into this magical combination of smart, unsure, funny, and brutally honest. I am now in my fourth year working away from a school building and that means that my opportunities to spend time with students are far more rare and therefore, special. And this week was no exception.
February 1st is one of the latest college application deadlines and I had the privilege yesterday and today of working with five former students—who I had in class as 8th graders—on their college essays. The group just happened to be all girls but as the mom of three boys, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit how much I totally loved having some girl-time. Just to be in a room without anyone bouncing a ball (or talking about their “balls”) is pretty blissful. And then, for our time to be spent pouring over their writing? I might as well have stopped by heaven.
Each young woman had written an essay that was deeply personal and provided a window into their lives. And while each of them was grateful for my help and ready with a big hug and a “Thank you Ms. Sanzi”, the truth is, the time we spent was a gift to me. I had the opportunity to see these beautiful young women putting the final touches on their college applications four years after teaching them as middle schoolers. And I got to read their personal statements and grow in my own understanding of the challenges and triumphs that fill up the lives of the young women who were born almost thirty years after I was.
And these are not young women born into privilege or wealth. Most, if not all, will be first generation college students. They are bilingual. And hardworking. And it was an honor for me to have a second opportunity to play just a small part in their journey to college.
Before working in schools that are considered “high poverty”, I worked in a school that was one of the wealthiest public high schools in the country. And, predictably, students needed help with their college essays too. While English teachers were quick to help with college essays, it was also common practice for parents to hire a someone to help with the college essay and even with the entire “college application process.” This whole college counseling phenomenon has quickly become a booming—and high priced—industry in wealthy communities. In fact, college essay help was even a high priced item at the annual Junior Class Auction (and still may be today though I am no longer in the loop on that.) A teacher or two on the faculty would offer up a set number of hours of college essay help as an auction item and parents would bid on it—all the money raised was used to fund the Junior Boat Cruise, the school’s version of a junior prom. And the going auction price in the late 1990’s for this writing help? Six hundred dollars. (The auction used to raise over $80,000 in one night.)
Everything will be a bit more right with the world when students whose parents can’t buy them $600 worth of writing help can still access the same support in achieving their dreams and if I can be tiny part of leveling out the playing field, then I consider myself blessed.
So thank you ladies for the opportunity to soak up some girl time, help you with your writing, and share some high school laughs. I loved every minute of it. And I am so very proud of all of you.