This letter features reporting from "Class Struggles" by Alissa Quart and Alice Proujansky
Dear Congressman Connolly,
My name is Neha Kulshreshtha, I am a sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology and I live in District 11. I am writing to express my opinions on the issue of the struggles immigrant families face with the public school system. I read about this issue in a Pulitzer Center article, written by Alissa Quart and Alice Proujansky. This article, titled "Class Struggles," is about a teenager named Guido who lived with his grandmother in Paraguay while his mother, Blanca, worked as a nanny in New York and sent remittances to help pay for Guido's school and clothes. Working alone in a foreign country without her son made Blanca unhappy so she saved up money to bring Guido to the States, where he enrolled in a New York middle school. Making this large adjustment was difficult for him at first, and his grades suffered as a result of this. When time came for him to move onto high school, Blanca and Guido struggled to compete with higher class families and lacked the resources necessary to choose the proper school. New York public high schools are known to be competitive and making such a decision is life-changing. For immigrants such as Blanca, the public school system can seem anomalous and unless action is taken, this problem will remain immutable.
I have a personal connection to this story as it relates a lot to the community and environment here in Northern Virginia. Where I live, there are a lot of immigrants from almost every part of the world - Asia, South America, Europe, and Africa. My own parents immigrated here from India about 20 years ago. Many immigrant parents can deeply relate to Blanca, as "[s]he couldn't take hours off of work to meet with teachers, school counselors, or officials, to visit potential schools, or to lobby for Guido's admission. Blanca also didn't know about the many educational services available to her, which would help with school placement or tutoring." A lot of these people, especially those who have recently moved to this country, have trouble adjusting to the way schools work here. I went through this experience myself when I was applying to TJ, the high school I go to now. I've seen a lot of parents, even my own, who ask about "the perfect formula" needed to get into TJ, parents who worry about commute, and those who struggle to pay for extracurriculars, which are often seen as necessary to get into a "good" school. However, I understand these struggles and worries that parents have because as students, we spend dozens of hours every week in school and the things we learn, the people we meet, can be very formative for young minds. In English class we have recently been studying and discussing the existential questions in the book Ishmael. The author, David Quinn, wrote, "Mother Culture, whose voice has been in your ear since the day of your birth, has given you an explanation of how things came to be this way...from Sunday school lessons, from your textbooks and teachers" (22). In this sense, not only do we gain knowledge, but we are also immersed in culture at our schools, which gives all the more reason why the school a child attends is highly important.
Although this is a complex issue, I believe the best solution would be to offer special guidance for those immigrant parents who struggle with the admissions processes for schools and have trouble paying school fees. Since there is often a language barrier, it would be helpful to make a website with multiple language options that allows parents to chat with a counselor or get information. An alternative would also be to create free information sessions at local schools for parents to get the help they need. Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and I hope that there will be discussion to create a solution to this problem.
Neha Kulshreshtha was born and raised in Herndon, Virginia, and is currently a sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Neha enjoys volunteering and her hobbies include traveling, swimming, and watching movies.
As a student of a high school immersed in STEM, she believes words are formidable and can be used to create a lasting impact in the world. She has had a passion for writing since a young age, whether that be poetry or short stories. One of her favorite poets and first role models, Sarah Kay, instilled in her a love for writing. Neha would like to thank her parents for always supporting her writing and her English teacher, Mrs. Henry, for the opportunity to participate in this contest.
Click here to read more winners and finalists from the 2018 Local Letters for Global Change contest.