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Four Ways to Create Privilege for Your Students

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If your students need opportunities to build their resumes to become viable college applicants but your school doesn't have multiple clubs and societies, all hope may not be lost. Here are a few things that all teachers can do to create privilege for their students:

  1. Learn how to write a really good letter of recommendation.
  2. Create opportunities for students to showcase their leadership skills that will pique the interest of college admissions officers, and that can be specifically referenced in letters of recommendation. For example, my English department created short-term, peer-tutoring positions last year when we realized that some of our middle school students needed help with discussion skills; we're also hoping to put students in charge of literacy initiative efforts so that students have the chance to collaborate with librarians and community members. This kind of student involvement benefits everyone.
  3. Implement a rigorous, and well-rounded curriculum so that students can develop strong research, writing, reading, and critical thinking skills. 
  4. Advocate to keep or build music and drama programs.
  5. Invite college representatives and alums into your classroom. Students may need to hear about prestigious universities from multiple voices. We also need to find a way to make university recruiters aware that they should be visiting talent in your school.

Why This Matters

Students enrolled in prestigious (and costly) prep schools have a distinct advantage in college admissions because, as Shamus Khan writes in Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School, prep schools are particularly good at creating opportunities for students. Schools that have multiple clubs, organizations, and socieites will have multiple students who can boast about their leadership skillls, community involvement, and personal initiative. Not surprisingly, it's easier for students to gain access to an elite university when they have a team of adults working on their behalf helping them to earn a number of achievements that impress university recruiters.

This discrepancy between wealthier schools that can easily fund a number of programs that serve students and other schools that are struggling in the midst of budget cuts contributes to the end result of prestigious universities tending to serve those who already have advantageous backgrounds.In 2013, for example, only 15 percent of Yale’s student body came from families earning less than $65,000 ($12,000 more than the median income in the US). If students living in underserved communities aren't able to get their foot in the ivy door, they will be missing out on access to important connections and opportunities that may be their best tickets to upward social mobility.

Moving Forward

It's unlikely that we as educators will be able to single-handedly counter the myriad systematic inequalities that are working to disadvantage our students. However, we can do everything in our power to ensure that students will have the agency to choose a path that's most in-line with their needs and values. Students deserve our effort. They deserve access to more privilege.

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Amy Williams holds Masters degrees in English and teaching. She was a New York Educator Voice Resident Fellow in the 2014-15 school year, and was a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar Grant recipient in 2014. Her writing and lesson plans have appeared on ReadWriteThink, EdWeek Teacher, and in other publications. Amy was a tenured educator in New York where she taught grades 10, 12, English electives like Mass Media & Society and dual-enrollment courses with Tompkins Cortland Community College. She now teaches at an IB World School in Germany.

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Guest Monday, 24 October 2016