Focus on High-Needs Schools for Equal Opportunity

This post was written by Michelle Curtis, she has a background in nonprofit work and is excited about improving people’s lives. Learn more about Michelle here.

Recently I had a conversation with a high school senior who just learned that some schools offer Advance Placement (AP) courses. Daniel* recently changed schools from one located in a town with a lower socioeconomic status to a more prestigious school located in a town with a higher-socioeconomic status. He said that had he attended his current high school — which emphasizes college preparation and offers AP courses — earlier, then perhaps attending a university would have been an option next year.


Shouldn’t higher education always be an option?

Unfortunately, education can be different for students coming from areas facing high levels of poverty in the United States. I have worked with children who do not have “basic” supplies: backpacks, paper, pencils, a desk (at home), and access to the Internet. Some of these students have attended three or more schools within one school year and have been unable to receive a steady education. Schoolwork often takes a backseat for these students. I have had parents say they do not believe homework should be taken home or tell their kids they do not need to do homework because they are moving again.

I am a student of the Master of Arts in Teaching- TESOL program, which offers a curriculum that revolves around teaching English to kids and adults in high-needs areas.The program has taught me the value behind understanding diversity in the classroom and the importance of risk-taking. Understanding the diversity in the classroom and becoming a teacher willing to take risks are just two reasons why USC Rossier teacher preparation programs are crucial to those wanting to teach in high-needs schools.

1. Diversity:

In the Pedagogy II class for MAT-TESOL, there is a unit devoted to the diverse needs of learners and how to best foster a student’s individual attributions to enhance learning. USC students create lesson plans that meet the unique needs of various types of learners who may be more advanced, at a lower academic level, are more reading orientated, or more visual. The lesson plans are also tailored for students who may have different learning styles, learning disabilities, cognitive needs, visual and hearing needs, etc.

When working with kids from high-needs areas, issues involving learning disabilities, visual impairments, and hearing needs are particularly troublesome because students are often being relocated and not receiving the necessary treatment and screening they need. Thus, physical conditions can interfere with learning but go untreated. Once you understand the range of diversity in a high-needs school, you can offer different modes of instruction and problem solving to help the student rather than seeing their inability to adapt to the instruction as a sign of failure and low-achievement.

2. Risk-taking:

Throughout this journey, I have been taught to always look for opportunities beyond the school and surroundings. For example, if the school cannot afford resources (e.g.,books, iPads, computers, digital textbooks), which are important for the students to be at an equal advantage to those from higher socioeconomic schools, then I will do research to find grants or programs in local communities that offer resources needed to provide students the same opportunities as any other student.

In USC MAT-TESOL courses, students are taught the importance of community and finding out what is needed rather than limiting themselves to their current surroundings. While this may sound time-consuming and appear farfetched between grading papers and creating intriguing lessons, risk-taking can also be thought of as simply being a lifelong learner — never getting comfortable. Once a teacher becomes comfortable and believes he or she knows everything then he or she is no longer open to finding the resources available and trying different pedagogical methods. When this does happen, the teacher is implicitly saying “I’m over it” and a disservice is done to our students’ futures.

The issues I’ve discussed are important for all teachers; however, in high-needs schools, they are especially crucial to understand if all students are going to have an opportunity to advance in education.

*Names have been changed to protect the confidentiality of persons.