Leaving the Cafeteria: an Outsider’s Perspective on Intercity Students

One of my greatest privileges of my high school and college education was not the fact that I went to accredited institutions, nor the fact that I was simply educated, (though the latter privilege is certainly noteworthy.) It was the fact that despite being restricted to schools that were by design socially exclusive at-face, (my public high school being from a wealthy suburb and my private college carrying a tuition cost of over $50K a year), I was able to share my education experiences with students whose backgrounds lay outside the wealthy suburbs: from within the city.

On average, most of these students came from less “socially privileged backgrounds” than mine. Some of them had domestic issues to cope with such as divorce or family violence. Many more simply had a significantly tighter budget. I remember going to out to eat with friends junior year of high school instead of the typical cafeteria fare and seeing the dissatisfied and often envious faces of the intercity students when we returned. The same was true for college. Yet in high school, a key difference that I notice now is the disparity between performance of my high schools and college intercity peers.

Certainly a similarity between many of the high school city students and college city students was their privileged access. Whether it was financial aid or placement from some kind of public or private program, most of them were able to find a means of access to an institution of a higher performance level that unfortunately, many of their neighbors were likely not fortunate enough to have. What is most likely a key difference, among others, is the motivation factor. Many of the intercity kids who were placed in suburban schools systems like mine, likely did so without as much of a personal say as my college classmates. Many of my high school peers who had to travel many extra miles every day to receive a higher quality public education than their neighbors, were likely enrolled by a parent or guardian or had some professional recommend them or apply for them on their behalf. Indeed, some of them probably resented attending a school system where they were forced to compete with peers with more financial resources and a significantly higher level of personal and domestic safety and security.

On the other hand, my class-mates in college who came from the city via scholarships and other programs, (there were many who attended my school via the established POSSE program which provides higher-education opportunities and training for students graduating from the Greater New York City area), were probably on average several times more motivated. For one, many of these scholar programs (like POSSE) require a high level of demonstrated achievement during the high school years in order to qualify for admission and support. Additionally, there seems to be that natural principle in effect here: the one that dictates that students once they make it to college are generally more self-motivated towards their education than students who are in high school; which seems to be even more noticeable in my case when comparing scholarship city students from college to program assisted intercity students in public schools.

Needless to say, I feel I have learned a lot from my experiences attending school with kids who lived beyond the suburbs and who came from neighborhoods commonly associated with an entirely different kind of social class. Many of the POSSE and scholarship students in college were among my closest friends and mentors and the perspectives they shared with me in terms of individual development and citizenship were invaluable. While I never really interacted as much with the intercity students in high school, my recollection of them and their contributions to our school system has helped me frame this larger picture of just how challenging it can be to travel outside your class sphere and aspire to great things amongst those with higher levels of family wealth and social privilege.

Leave a Reply