Thirty-two urban education students from Swarthmore College recently watched the introductory First Person DVD on their first day of class. Over the next several weeks, excerpts from their responses will be posted as part of this blog.
First Person offers a nuanced portrayal of the lives of high school students in an urban environment. For teenagers who attend high-achieving schools and come from families with generations of college graduates, going to college is an expectation rarely challenged. For such students, struggle revolves primarily around applying to and choosing between a handful of colleges and universities. First Person documents the obstacles faced by public high school students in urban Philadelphia for whom college is not necessarily the next step in life.
Steve, Fresh, Malikka, Macho, Shalisa, and Kurtis face formidable challengesâ€”such as financial strain, family obligations, neighborhood distractions, and deficient high school experiencesâ€”to their future as college students and graduates. Shalisa struggles to keep up with her schoolwork as she helps raise her three younger sisters. Fresh has grown up without strong family support, in a neighborhood rampant with drug dealing. He sees an alternative to college in the army or navy, a path commonly chosen by young adults who seek a structured life and financial support. Kurtis finds himself distracted from the prospect of college by his social involvement in street life. Though Malikka is academically driven and appreciates her supportive family, she acknowledges the financial burden her mother will face trying to send three daughters through college. Collectively, these stories illustrate the myriad forces that act against many urban public school students as they prepare for life after high school…
As a prospective teacher in urban public schools, I reflect upon this documentary with anger at the unfair obstacles many urban public school students face, happiness for the rich and promising things in these studentsâ€™ lives, and utmost respect for the effort they exert each day to construct and pursue positive futures for themselves. What goes on in the classroom does not represent the entirety of these studentsâ€™ stories. This film illustrates that in order to best support students, educators must be cognizant of and sensitive to outside influences in their lives. Implementing stringent security measures in school buildings does not adequately address the problems in urban schools. Providing emotional, intellectual, and cultural support in the classroom that embraces rather than neglects studentsâ€™ backgrounds would be a far more significant way to improve urban education.