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Relationships are Key: Supporting Underserved Students [], 7/13/20

Today’s post is based on an interview with Brooke Adams, Director of Organizational Change at Marathon Scholars. Brooke Adams is a first-generation college graduate with a master’s degree in social work and a passion for working with students from under-resourced communities.

Please introduce yourself and your work for our blog readers.

I’m Brooke Adams. I am 33 years old, I live in Portland, Oregon, and I have an ACE score of 8. I work with underserved populations getting to and through college. Historically, I have worked with first-generation college students, students who come from low-income backgrounds, or students whose parents came from low-income backgrounds. Sometimes we get students whose parents have worked their way up but never went to college. What we’ve noticed in this work is that no one gives these students a guide, so if their parents come from low-income families, even if the students are being raised in a higher socioeconomic class, they often still face the same struggles that other low-income, first-generation students face.

How does your personal childhood experiences impact your work as a college program director and mentor?

A supervisor once told me, “You can smell trauma in your students. You know when something’s going on when other people don’t.” This is one of the biggest things that has benefited my work: having come from similar backgrounds that my students are coming from. Being extremely low-income, and the first in my family to go to college, I understand what my students might be facing. My childhood experiences, having been in their place before, trying to navigate a college environment, allows me to make sense of what might be going on in their lives and dig deeper. We, as mentoring organizations, have to do a better job of having our employees reflect the student population. For example, there’s not enough support for students of color at the universities I’ve worked with, and making sure our students feel represented and heard is really important in helping them be resilient.

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I believe that a psychologically sound as well as a physically healthy future should be every child’s foremost right. By not teaching child development science along with rearing to high school students, is it not as though societally we’re implying that anyone can comfortably enough go forth with unconditionally bearing children with whatever minute amount, if any at all, of such vital knowledge they happen to have acquired over time? It’s as though we’ll somehow, in blind anticipation, be innately inclined to fully understand and appropriately nurture our children’s naturally developing minds and needs. A notable number of academics would say that we don’t. Along with their physical wellbeing, children’s sound psychological health should be the most significant aspect of a parent’s (or caregiver’s) responsibility. Perhaps foremost to consider is that during their first three to six years of life (depending on which expert one asks) children have particularly malleable minds (like a dry sponge squeezed and released under water), thus they’re exceptionally vulnerable to whatever rearing environment in which they happened to have been placed by fate. I frequently wonder how many instances there are wherein immense long-term suffering by children of dysfunctional rearing might have been prevented had the parent(s) received some crucial parenting instruction by way of mandatory high school curriculum.

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