#RISDitn: Graduation 2020: First-generation college students face added anxiety of pandemic as they prepare for freshman year
Graduating seniors determined to move forward though they have little added uncertainties brought on by coronavirus.
5:00 AM on Jun 14, 2020
Being the first in the family to go to college can be exciting but also terrifying during a worldwide pandemic.
Many of this year’s high school seniors are preparing for college with the added anxiety of uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus.
Asaal Al Dawaima, who wants to be a pediatrician one day, will attend the University of Texas at Dallas in the fall knowing it won’t be the typical college experience she’d long envisioned. As an added precaution, she’s opting to stay at home instead of on campus during her freshman year.
“We can’t wait for things to get better,” said Al Dawaima, who is graduating from the L.V. Berkner High School STEM Academy in Richardson. “We have to keep going and keep moving forward. But it’s hard not to get frustrated with what’s happening because no one else has experienced this before.”
Al Dawaima, 17, is grateful she’ll at least have a built-in support system to turn to through the unknown. She is among about 50 graduating seniors who will work with advisors from ScholarShot throughout their college years.
Typically, advisors from the nonprofit spend the summer building one-on-one relationships with first-generation college students before they head off to college. That helps establish much-needed trust so students can be honest with them about being homesick, struggling with a difficult class or any other challenges they may face when they start their first semester.
ScholarShot officials point to research that shows nearly nine of 10 first-generation college students drop out of college because of financial hardships, academic struggles or social-emotional difficulties in adjusting to a new environment.
“The relationship between the advisors and students is everything to make sure that the students are doing well,” said Carlos Valadez, director of scholar success for ScholarShot. But building that trust will be complicated this summer by social-distancing practices put in place to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
Valadez says the nonprofit is pivoting as best it can to ensure those relationships take root. While still hoping to have in-person meetings soon, they are setting up video chats so advisors can begin their work. That includes helping students create to-do lists in preparing for the first fall semester or making contingency plans for the unexpected during coronavirus.
Most colleges and universities shut down and moved nearly all lessons to online classes as the pandemic spread across the country. Now many school officials say they’re optimistic they can hold classes on-campus in the fall but note that plans hinge on what public health and government officials say is safe.
After so much of their senior year has been disrupted, students say having someone they can talk to about their stress as they transition to college during this unprecedented time will be especially helpful.
Da’Shawn Ford, an Irving High School graduate who plans to attend the University of Houston, tries not to let the pressure of uncertainty get to him.
His mom lost her accounting job in a hotel chain as that industry took a hit during the pandemic. So some of the money he was earning at a fast-food restaurant had to go toward household needs instead of college savings.
Still, Ford’s determined to stay focused on earning a degree as he wants to be an algebra teacher one day and coach middle school students.
“Having support is going to be the best thing to help navigate through all this,” Ford said. “I know a lot of students drop out and have to start doing things that they had not planned on doing. I don’t want that to happen to me.”
ScholarShot’s model requires students to check in with their ScholarShot advisor every two weeks to ensure students stay on track. It’s usually an update on how classes are going or what happened on recent assignments.
But sometimes, a student admits things are rough and sends a prayer request. ScholarShot officials say frequently touching base allows them to help before a student feels they have no other option but to give up. The nonprofit says the vast majority of their students end up earning a degree.
Tylan Dangerfield, who is graduating from DeSoto High School, said the unexpected shift to online classes in his senior year prepared them to be more self-sufficient in college. But he also learned he didn’t like it.
Dangerfield is eager to be on campus at the University of Texas at Austin to major in marketing. He knows it would be cheaper for him if classes continued online as he still has to come up with the money to pay for housing needs. But he worries about staying motivated if in-person classes are canceled.
Dangerfield said the extra nudge from ScholarShot will help if he’s forced to do virtual lessons unexpectedly again next school.
“I don’t like to be at home or to sit still,” he said.
Editor’s note: The content for this Graduation 2020 story was gathered before George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and before protests began across the nation.
Originally published at https://www.dallasnews.com on June 14, 2020.
#RISDitn: Graduation 2020: First-generation college students face added anxiety of pandemic as… was originally published in Richardson ISD Newsdesk on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.