A portrait of inequity
April 5, 2018
Let’s face it: some of us walk an easier path through life than others. This isn’t to say that everyone doesn’t have their own personal hardships to face, but the fact is that a person’s race, socio-economic status and gender and sexual identity can add to these hardships. Acknowledging the roadblocks that some students face based on these factors is an important step to take in becoming more aware of the systemic issues that cause these issues, and hopefully the first on a path to a better, more equitable future.
An uneven playing field
Statistically speaking, economic status is one of the most influential factors to a student’s success at school. Income level has been directly linked to success in terms of graduation rate and state testing scores; the higher the amount of money a student’s family earns, on average, the better the student performs in school.
As with much of the Northshore School District and the greater Seattle area, Inglemoor is on the upper end of the spectrum in terms of students’ financial stability. In the area that the Northshore School District encompasses, the average household income is $107,595 per year, which is far greater than the $57,057 Washington State average that was last recorded in 2015.
As would be expected, Northshore School District’s high average income also reflected in the school’s graduation rate. From 2011-2015, Inglemoor consistently graduated 95 percent of its class every year, which is higher than the district average of 93.3 percent as of 2015.
It’s sometimes difficult to look beneath the shiny exterior of these statistics, but they alone don’t tell the story. Of the close to 1,800 students at Inglemoor, 14.2 percent receive free or reduced lunch. This points to serious economic disparity between students. While the student body appears relatively wealthy on the surface, there is a significant number of students living in households that earn approximately $50,000 or less (depending on household size). Because of financial constraints, this means less access to test-preparation classes and tutoring, putting these students at a distinct disadvantage compared to their peers.
Above all else, it’s important to recognize that income inequality exists at our school. Inglemoor may tout impressive testing and graduation statistics, but this is not a level playing field by any means.
Dealing with homophobia as a student
As both a Latina and a lesbian, senior Andrea Reyes is a minority on two fronts. This makes it so there are more daily barriers for her to confront.
“I’ve had to overcome a lot of things in my life, namely discrimination and homophobia. I’ve had people say just really awful things to me, which is never fun.”
LGBTQ+ rights have been featured heavily in the news cycle over the last few years, for example with the legalization of gay marriage in 2015 and the ongoing debate about whether religion can be used as a trump card against serving all people, regardless of sexual orientation. It can be difficult to watch these events play out in the newspaper, Reyes said.
“Especially in our current political climate, it’s like your life is just a political debate. To be reduced to a debate topic feels dehumanizing sometimes.”
By trying to advocate for herself and others, Reyes says that there is also good that comes from being a sexual minority, despite the roadblocks it presents.
“It’s taken a long time to love myself for [being a lesbian] but I think it’ll be worth it in the end,” Reyes said.
A cost too steep
Talk to high school students about their involvement in extracurriculars, and you will generally find them balancing a tight schedule and the costs associated with it. After all, colleges prefer well-rounded individuals. Commitments to clubs, sports, volunteer work and more are a virtual must.
Despite the impact these activities might have on students’ futures, participation in extracurriculars can put a strain on students’ budgets.
“I think there definitely is a barrier. I wanted to try out for cheerleading, but couldn’t join because of the cost. There should be more scholarships set in place,” sophomore Kendell Braschler said.
In fact, a survey by Nordic showed that 33.6 percent of students said that price was a determining factor of whether or not they would join a club or sport.
Braschler said she thought that although the cheerleading fee is for uniforms and transportation, it’s still too expensive, exceeding $650. Freshman Lalla Hansen said she doesn’t quite understand where the money goes for some clubs.
“I haven’t really experienced a barrier, but sometimes I wonder why there is a fee for certain things. For example, Key Club is volunteering, so why do we have to pay for it?” Hansen said.
According to Nordic’s survey, 53.8 percent of students think that the sports and clubs at Inglemoor are too expensive. Many clubs and extracurriculars also involve expensive out-of-state field trips that students can’t afford.
“I used to do MUN and TSA [both of which involve travel] and they say that they provide financial assistance but don’t really have a consistent system. This does make a barrier for the economically vulnerable students,” junior Jason Xu said.
However, DECA adviser Matt Pakinas said that every student deserves the opportunity to participate in whatever activity they choose.
“Financial barriers should never prevent a student from playing the game,” Pakinas said.
Because competitions can cost upwards of $300, the DECA program has developed ways to help students cover the expenses through volunteer work at the DECA store, fundraisers and scholarships. In FBLA, the story is a little different.
“Everyone who does FBLA will do it if they can afford it. So we don’t really know about the kids who joined and quit because of the money. But obviously there are some who don’t end up doing it because of the costs associated with it,” senior Antyush Bollini said.
Nonetheless, there are fundraising efforts done by the whole Inglemoor chapter to ease the expenses of the competition. Bollini said that he tries his hardest to encourage people to join and explain the financial aid that can be received by talking to the club adviser, Teresa McCausland.
“I’ve noticed that most people don’t know about the scholarship options and don’t consider these clubs as a option,” Bollini said.
Similarly, the music program consistently travels for retreats to practice as a whole and in small ensembles. These trips have included international destinations such as China in 2008.
“If finances are a concern, we don’t leave anybody behind. We have a booster program set up by parents that takes care of the students who can’t afford the retreats,” music teacher Jim Rice said. “We make sure no one stays home.”
Out of reach: The race gap
When one out of ten students feel that they have been denied the opportunity to do something at school and one out of five feel that people do not listen to their opinions because of their ethnicity, it is clear that racial opportunity disparity is present in a school. This revelation is even more disquieting when, according to a Nordic poll of 235 students, it applies to Inglemoor.
“A lot of people are probably uncomfortable talking about it,” said junior Linda Zhu, “but they shouldn’t be.”
Over one third of Inglemoor students are minorities, making this disparity an important issue to address to ensure that all students have an equal chance to succeed educationally.
While a student’s ethnicity can lead to discrimination within opportunities, it also affects their potential exposure to those opportunities. A study by the Brown Center found that Caucasian and Asian students are more likely to be presented with the choice to take advanced classes compared to their African-American or Hispanic peers. These students are also the most likely to obtain a Bachelor’s degree or higher. This connection between exposure and achievement brings racial factors into the matter of opportunity disparity before the opportunity is even attempted.
To overcome the issue of opportunity disparity, the Inglemoor Equity Team was created this year to promote equal opportunity in the school community by providing nondiscriminatory access to classes, limiting barriers and creating opportunities for all students.
“We always ask what we can do as a school to give a voice to students across the spectrum,” counselor Jennifer Orhuozee said.
Orhouzee said that equity should be a focus for the school at all times and that communication with both students and parents can keep them informed of their available opportunities.
“An outreach in communication will let people know what’s out there for them,” Orhuozee said.
Assistant Principal Erica Hill, co-head of the Equity Team, said that there are steps being taken by the school to improve access to opportunities for minorities by giving extra support to those who need it, holding field trips for minority students and partnering with a multicultural parent group called Natural Leaders, which focuses on involving parents in their children’s school communities.
“We are looking at things through the lens of equity,” Hill said. “We are definitely moving in a good direction.”
She also said that students can address the opportunity disparity in their own lives by speaking for themselves and taking advantage of their opportunities.
“By teaching students skills to advocate for themselves, we give them a platform to share their voice,” she said. “There is nothing more important.”
Strong ELL program looks to make further improvements
On the bus ride to a recent field trip, students could be heard laughing, singing and teaching songs to students who didn’t know the lyrics. This may sound like a typical American high school bus ride, but one detail made it anything but: none of the songs were in English.
The students who rode the bus that day are members of the English Language Learner (ELL) program. Their first languages range from Spanish to Arabic to Chinese, and they are all working to become proficient English speakers while also balancing the typical difficulties faced by high school students.
“They’re learning from each other, and they are building a community and celebrating the different cultures,” Spanish teacher Kelly McLaurin said.
ELL teacher Julie Westerbeck said that despite the added challenge these students face, the school is doing its best to ensure that they have the support they need to succeed.
“We’ve got great teachers, and they’re working their tails off trying to help the kids access the curriculum,” Westerbeck said. “People are making sure we don’t leave them behind.”
Westerbeck said that Inglemoor’s program is the strongest in the district, providing the highest level of support and making sure that students don’t fall through the cracks.
Students who qualify for the ELL program are enrolled in two classes specifically for ELL students: an English class taught by Westerbeck and an academic lab period facilitated by McLaurin.
“It’s a very interesting class because everybody has different needs,” McLaurin said. “I might have this kid finishing up his Biology quiz, these three kids finishing up Algebra I, another student might be re-watching a video from U.S. History. There’s a lot of different things going on. If you come to my class, it looks different every day.”
Program goals and impact on students
Senior Alaa Shibly, who moved from Lebanon as an eighth grader, said that the ELL classes he’s taken have led to progress and improvement for him, both in his ability to communicate effectively and his ability to keep up in all of his classes.
“When I came to Inglemoor I knew a little bit, but now I know way more,” Shibly said. “[The ELL classes] have been helpful. Mrs. Westerbeck and Mrs. McLaurin help me a lot.”
In addition to improving the students’ language skills in the areas of reading, writing, listening and speaking, McLaurin said these ELL classes aim to give students the tools they need to succeed wherever they are.
“Our biggest goal is making sure that they do have a home base, that we work on skills to make them more confident in their classes so they feel that they can actively participate instead of just hang back,” McLaurin said.
When not in classes designed specifically for students learning English as a second language, Shibly and other ELL students attend classes along with students who are native English speakers, and Westerbeck said that it can be difficult to keep up.
“It’s hardest in classes which have an intense pace and a high level of vocabulary,” Westerbeck said. “If you are unfamiliar with the language and it’s going by so fast and all the other kids are learning the new vocabulary and you’re trying to keep up with all of it, I think that’s hard.”
McLaurin said that her ELL students take this challenge in stride and work diligently to overcome it.
“[ELL students] are doing way more work than everybody around them, but because it’s not their first language they see way fewer results. That can lead to the idea that they’re not as smart, or they’re not as quick as their English-speaking classmates. In my class, I fight that,” McLaurin said. “ELL students are everyday superheroes. I wish they knew it because sometimes when you’re struggling in school or when you don’t understand a culture or you can’t communicate the way that you want to you don’t feel like a superhero, but they are.”
Areas for improvement
In order to provide further support to ELL students in non-ELL specific classes, paraeducators attend and take notes so that these students know what is going on and can help the students stay on top of assignments and study for tests.
Westerbeck, McLaurin and Shibly all said that paraeducators are a valuable resource for the ELL program, and one that the program could use more of. However, only two, Laura Miller and Heather Scherber, are currently employed.
“We don’t have enough coverage right now to support [ELL students] in the places that they are, so we put [paraeducators] in the areas of most need,” Westerbeck said. “If we could have them in more of the classes to help the students, that would be phenomenal.”
Westerbeck said that the program is also feeling the strain of high numbers and the increase in size of the student body as a whole.
“We have 72 students in the program who qualify for our support which is an enormous number, especially if you compare it to the other schools,” Westerbeck said. “So we’re really excited that we’re here to support the kids, but we’ve got a lot of room for needing more support and we could always do a better job for them.”