Classrooms Apart, Worlds Away
Cerca y Lejos: Fuerza en la Diversidad

Liviera Leebong

As M-A students, we often hear that Menlo-Atherton is one of the most diverse high schools in California. Our school draws its student body from diverse communities ranging from Atherton to East Palo Alto, with Atherton’s per capita income at $128,816 and East Palo Alto’s at $18,014. M-A proclaims “strength in diversity,” and while it allows students to interact with peers they might otherwise never meet, the student body remains divided.

37.7% of M-A students are considered socioeconomically disadvantaged, meaning that they are either on the free or reduced-price meal program, or that their parents did not attend college. Student support coordinator Miki Cristerna notes that “a lot of kids who could be struggling financially aren’t even on our radar,” as a student’s household income must fall below certain eligibility guidelines in order to qualify for the meal subsidy.

For example, a student from a family of 4 with a monthly income exceeding $3,554 (more than $42,643 a year) would not be able to get free or reduced-price lunch, or in some cases, would not be considered socioeconomically disadvantaged. In contrast, the median income of a household in Menlo Park is $111,244 a year, and in Atherton, $250,001.

For those who are part of the program, it can take 10 to 15 minutes to receive lunch from the Speedway, wasted time that could be spent meeting with teachers or finishing homework instead. Ms. Cristerna explained that the process also requires a PIN number, which slows the line and presents other problems: “Sometimes the PIN number doesn’t work, and sometimes you haven’t eaten any breakfast and this is the only lunch you’re going to get, and then you find out somebody’s used your PIN number and you don’t get any food.”

Others struggle daily with getting clean clothes or even securing a place to call home. Ms. Cristerna remembered a student whose family lost their home and had to stay at a shelter. “Every week they would stay in a different church, or a different synagogue…what every family would have is a little tent, and have two or three cots in the tent, and that would be their home for the night.”

Some students take on jobs to help support their families, she added. “We have several students that we work with that at 3:15, they have to go to work with their parents,” leaving little time for schoolwork. One teacher recalled that one of her students “goes to work at ten or eleven to about four in the morning.”

Junior Isabel C.*, who is on the free and reduced-price meal program, said, “When you’re sixteen, you’re supposed to worry about school, not money. And me, I’m trying to look for a job, trying to look for money so I can help my parents, and so I can help myself…with six of us it’s just not enough for one person to work. But it’s enough to get by the month.”

She added that she has “always wanted a desk.” At her two bedroom home, she faces the distraction of her three little brothers, who are two, four, and twelve years old, and with whom she shares a room. “I’m the one that has to tell them to stop fighting, help them play with something so they won’t bother each other.”

Maria G., also a junior, shoulders the responsibility of cooking for her parents and four younger siblings when her mom “isn’t feeling well.” At the time of our interview, she had been cooking for her family for the past two weeks.

Students that need to deal with such added pressures may find it harder to focus on academics despite their efforts, especially if the culture they grew up with places emphasis elsewhere, like work or family. Consequently, individual classes tend not to reflect the diversity of the student body. While whites make up 76.7% of advanced standing classes, only 44.5% of all students are white. Hispanics represent 40.5% of students but only 10.6% of A.S. classes. This contributes to the divide between students, as being on different academic tracks often means barely seeing each other.

But there are still ways for students of diverse backgrounds to connect. “One of the activities I saw this year and I thought was so cool was the dance off on the blacktop,” said administrative vice principal Simone Kennel. “Kids who normally wouldn’t get excited or involved in something like that were. Dance, music, that’s always going to bring kids together,” as well as art and sports. Additionally, the student support center in B-21, with help from adults in the community, serves as a great resource, offering food and supplies for those in need.

An understanding of the other students who make this school so diverse, and an effort to open opportunities for all is key to creating true strength in diversity.

Como estudiantes de M-A, frecuentemente oímos que Menlo Atherton es una de las escuelas más heterogéneas en California. Nuestra escuela tiene estudiantes de diversas comunidades desde Atherton a East Palo Alto, con la renta per cápita de Atherton a $128.816 y la de East Palo Alto a $18.014. M-A proclama “fuerza en la diversidad,” y mientras deja estudiantes relacionarse con personas que en otras circunstancias nunca conocieran, el cuerpo estudiantil remane diviso.

El 7.7 % de los estudiantes de M-A son considerados socioeconómicamente desfavorecidos, significando que o reciben comida gratis o de precio reducido, o que sus padres no fueron a la universidad. Coordinadora de apoyo estudiantil Miki Cristerna nota que “podrían haber muchos chicos con problemas financiaros de que nosotros no sabemos,” como los ingresos familiares de un estudiante deben caer debajo de ciertas directrices de elegibilidad para que el estudiante pueda recibir subsidios alimentares.

Por ejemplo, un estudiante de una familia de cuatro con una renta mensual de más de $3.554 (más de $42.643 por año) no podría ganar comida gratis o de precio reducido, y en algunos casos, no se considera socioeconómicamente desfavorecido. Por contrasto, la renta media anual de una familia en Menlo-Park es $111.244 y en Atherton $250.001.

Para los estudiantes que hacen parte del programa, puede tomar diez o quince minutos para que puedan recibir almuerzo del Speedway, tiempo perdido que se podría usar encontrándose con maestros o terminando tarea. Cristerna explicó que el procedimiento también requiere un numero PIN, que decelera la cola y presenta otros problemas: “A veces el numero PIN no funciona, y a veces no has comido el desayuno y este es el único almuerzo que vas a recibir, y descubres que alguien ha usado tu numero PIN y no recibes comida.”

Otros tienen problemas en asegurándose ropa limpia o un lugar donde vivir. Cristerna se recuerda un estudiante que perdió su casa y debía quedarse en refugios con su familia. “Todas las semanas se quedaban en una iglesia o sinagoga diferente…todas las familias tenían una tienda pequeña, y tenían dos o tres catres en la tienda, y esa fuera su casa para la noche.”

Algunos estudiantes trabajan para apoyar sus familias económicamente, agregó. “tenemos muchos estudiantes con los cuales trabajamos a las 3:15, ellos tienen que ir a trabajar con sus padres,” dejándole poco tiempo para el trabajo escolar. Un profesor recordó que uno de sus estudiantes “va a trabajar a las diez o las once hasta las cuatro de la mañana.”

Junior Isabel C.*, quien hace parte del programa de comida gratis o a precio reducido, dice, “Cuando tienes diez y seis años, deberías estar preocupado con la escuela, no con el dinero. Y yo, yo estoy probando a buscar un trabajo, probando a buscar dinero así que pueda ayudar a mis padre, así que pueda ayudar a mi misma…con seis de nosotros, una persona sola que trabaja no es bastante. Pero es bastante para sobrevivir el mes.”

Agregó que “siempre ha querido un escritorio.” En su casa de dos cuartos, tiene la distracción de sus tres hermanitos, los cuales tienen dos, cuatro, y doce años, y con los cuales Isabel comparte un cuarto. “Yo soy la persona que debe decirle de no discutir, ayudarles a jugar con algo así que no se molesten.”

María G., también una junior, tiene la responsabilidad de cocinar para sus padres y cuatro hermanitos cuando su madre “no se siente bien.” Cuando la hemos entrevistado estaba cocinando para su familia desde dos semanas.

Los estudiantes que deben enfrentarse a luchas como estas podrían tener más dificultad en concentrándose sobre sus educaciones a pesar de sus esfuerzos, especialmente si la cultura en la cual crecieron pone importancia en otras cosas, como la familia o el trabajo. En consecuencia, clases individuas no reflectan la diversidad del cuerpo estudiantil. Mientras caucásicos componen el 76.7% de clases avanzadas, solamente 44.5% de los estudiantes a M-A son caucásicos. Los hispanos, quienes componen el 40.5% de estudiantes, componen solo el 10.6% de clases avanzadas. Eso contribuye a la grande división entre estudiantes, como muchas veces siendo su ritmos educacionales diferentes significa no verse.

Pero todavía hay maneras para que estudiantes de experiencias diferentes conecten. “Una de las actividades que observé este año que me pareció muy divertido fue la competencia de baile sobre el asfalto,” dijo vice preside administrativa Simone Kennel. “Chicos que normalmente no se emocionarían para algo así participaron. Baile, música, siempre va a conectar los jóvenes,” tanto cuanto el arte y los deportes. Además, el centre para el apoyo estudiantil en B-21, con el ayudo de adultos de la comunidad, sirve come recurso útil, ofrendo comida y provisiones para aquéllos que necesitan ayuda.

Un entendimiento mutuo de los otros estudiantes y un esfuerzo para abrir las oportunidades de la escuela para todos sus estudiantes son centrales en creando fuerza en la diversidad.

*Names have been changed

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Comments

4 Responses to “

Classrooms Apart, Worlds Away
Cerca y Lejos: Fuerza en la Diversidad

  1. Nolan Martin on January 10th, 2013 7:02 pm

    Love the story! It’s important that everyone sees the socioeconomic diversity here that makes M-A the school that it is. Your comments on the free and reduced lunch program are fascinating. On a side note, I recently heard that M-A loses hundreds of thousands of dollars every year on food service because not enough kids off of the free and reduced lunch program buy lunch from the school…a testament to the quality of the food.

    alai Reply:

    Wow! I guess I’m not surprised. Apparently most of it is microwaved and even the security guards say to make sure you know what you’re eating. Sounds like classic cafeteria food.

  2. bwiener on January 15th, 2013 7:49 pm

    This story certainly does a good job of highlighting some of the problems with the lack diversity in many of the classes at M-A. I love going to a school with such great socioeconomic and cultural diversity, yet I am often dismayed that I do not see this diversity in more of my classes at the school.

  3. svitale on January 18th, 2013 12:10 am

    I like that this story highlights how M-A prides itself on diversity while simultaneously boasting extremely homogeneous classes. This story delicately exposes this paradox, truly relaying the complicated nature of academic tracks and their conflict with our goal of diversity. Diversity seems to be a source of both pride and difficulty for our school, so a look at the ways the school is integrated, the way it’s not, and the reasons why it’s not was informative and a pleasure to read.