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Looking Back and Looking Forward

For low-income, first generational students, the belief that education is their only ticket out of poverty is all too real.

Photo of Terry Hosler
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Looking Back and Looking Forward – Tyler’s Story

The following story is by a GEAR UP Academic Specialist in KY working with college access and preparation for success. She is based in a high school.

'It was my great joy last week to drive one of our seniors to his admission interview with Berea College. During the 20 minute drive, I asked him “Tyler, do you remember the first time you were in my office?”

“No,” he said, “I know it was in middle school.”

I told him it was in 8th grade. I had just pulled the Persistence to Graduation report from Infinite Campus that ranks students who are at risk of not graduating. I explained to him the factors of the report. Absences, Failed grades and classes, Older than his class, Homelessness and other success patterns for the past 2-3 years.

‘Tyler, do you know where you were on that report? You were number 1! The most likely to never graduate from high school. And now with the help of GEAR UP, Upward Bound Math/Science, AmeriCorps and others, you are going for a college admissions interview at one of the most competitive schools in the country and stand a really good shot at getting in.’

I sat in the car during his interview, reflecting on how his family lives in a ‘pay by the week’ motel with a mostly barren pantry and receive regular eviction notices. I thought of how GEAR UP had juggled him into weekend programs during his summer UMBS stays so he would have a safe place to be. I thought of how we and his AmeriCorps tutors have worked with him to keep his grades up and how GEAR UP money even paid to have his test scores sent to the right colleges for him. I worried that even if he gets in, if his mother tells him they are being evicted or his sister is hungry, he will go home without ever looking back so we must continue to work with his family for his success. I mourned for the loss of his precious car. He was so proud that someone had given it to him to go to work and get to college. He had sold it two weeks ago to buy his family another week out of a homeless shelter. I took pride at his sense of needing to be an example for his sister that education what his only ticket out of poverty

When he came back to the car over an hour later, I eagerly asked him, ‘how did it go?’

‘Pretty good,’ he said with a smile, ‘I was prepared for every question except the last one. The Admissions Counselor said, Tyler, you know Berea is very competitive and we can only take 1 out of 8 qualified applicants. Why should you be that one?’

‘At first I didn’t know what to say, but then I thought of what you told me on the way here and I knew.'

‘Because five years ago, I was number 1 not to graduate and now I am here. I’ve worked so very hard to get here and I will work just as hard to stay.'

Post-Secondary Redesign must continue to reach out to the Tylers, and Ambers and Bens as education is truly their only ticket up. They are the hope of their families and our future.

Specifically, please check all that apply:

  • An Individual

Tell us about your work experience:

I have the privilege of working as a GEAR UP Service Coordinator with GEAR UP Appalachia! with Partners for Education at Berea College in rural mountains of Appalachian Kentucky. Partners for Education serves the educational needs of students and families in 33 counties of Eastern and South Central Kentucky. I have worked with high school and college students for 36 years through 4 states.

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Higher education is the ladder out of poverty for so many students. For them to be successful we must give them the knowledge and support they need to be capable of success and have the resilience to stick with it.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Good luck to Tyler!  What an inspiring story, and also heartbreaking story.  

Are you familiar with the Posse Foundation?  As I read about Tyler I thought of their work.  It is a college access program working in urban schools throughout the country.  I wonder how it might be adapted to rural communities.  They bring youth together, groups of 10/ a 'posse', and send them to the same selective college, as  a built in support group.   The program starts in high school.  I wonder how this might look in rural communities?  What might be unique in terms of how they support each other?

Photo of Terry Hosler

Hi Bettina,

please see my comment today to Kate for an update on Tyler.  Good News!

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