Student 1 is always 2 minutes late because her job won’t let her leave early. Student 2 has never been to the museum. Student 3 is pledging to a fraternity while, his buddy, student 4 is trying to keep a GPA of 3.89. Student 5 has severe PTSD from his time as a US Marine and student 6 is unaware of her PTSD after an abusive relationship. Finally student 6 lives on campus and went home for the weekend; not only did he forget his lab coat but his textbooks at home, as well. Out of these 6 students which one is at risk? For those who have never taught, the answer is obvious, but my Freeway Flyers and I have encountered not only these 6 types of students but so many others, with so many different needs and concerns. With this in mind, the obvious answer is that all of these students—in some way or another—are at risk.
When I hear the phrase “at risk,” I automatically think of a younger student in junior or high school. This is the time where peer pressure, puberty, academic frustrations, a disconnect with family and the question of identity surface. If students at this age are not guided properly, they can ruin the rest of their lives. Even the best of students can fall into the pressures of being perfect and harm themselves or others.
However, it’s ludicrous to believe that this is the only time students are at risk. When a freshman enters college, he has to establish his identity, accept that he has to make new friends, adjust to the schedule and workload of the school, begin to become more independent from his parents etc. Many universities council and advise faculty, staff, and parents on how to protect their college students. The first six weeks of a new college student’s life is the time when he/she runs the risk of binge drinking, falling into drugs, failing academically etc.
While I don’t dispute this idea, I’m wondering what happens after the six weeks? Is this student magically on his way to academic greatness because he didn’t find himself in a pitfall earlier in the semester? Also, is this how the academic world is defining at risk?
The vague phrase “at risk” allows for multiple interpretations, which should encompass every student in one way or the other. “At risk” defines any student who may give up on school for or because of a negative pressure. One student may have to leave school because they no longer have the money to pay for tuition. One student may leave because they have to raise a child with no support from friends or family or the university. A student can give up on academic greatness and settle for a job that pays for beer and a sandwich.
I’ve found that the majority of the “at risk” college students aren’t being helped by anyone but the faculty and certain faculty members at that. What’s more, not only have I never seen a workshop for faculty geared toward helping all of our “at risk” students, but a professor only has one semester with the student. Can a strong enough connection be made to keep that student on the track of personal and academic growth?
Looking back at my own college experience, I was at risk…perhaps more than my fellow classmates and far more than my professors realized. I passed my first six weeks of college life with flying colors, but that didn’t mean I never encountered a crisis later on in my academic career. Had it not been for two or three of my professors who kept me motivated and showed genuine interest in me, I would have never had the strength to push myself and to continue on my academic path.
I have no answer as to what the correct definition of “at risk” is and I certainly have no way of answering how we can keep all our students from withdrawing from classes, or worse, dropping out completely. I’ve come to regard each of my students as worthy of a positive future and with that in mind, I make sure I know each student to the best of my abilities and as much as the student allows me to. Every student is at risk and will always be at risk until graduation day. It is up to the college community to lessen that risk every chance available. Perhaps defining “at risk” is unnecessary and simply seeing that every student is in need in some way will help keep them motivated for positive personal and academic growth.
What are your thoughts? As always, I’m curious to know.
About the Freeway Flyer: Jenny Ortiz is a quite serious 24 year old New Yorker, except when unicorns (specifically chubby unicorns) are involved. When she isn’t pleading with Kurt Sutter via Twitter to be her mentor, she is teaching at St. John’s University, Adelphi University, and LaGuardia Community College (see, quite serious). When she isn’t teaching, she’s hanging out with her friends showing off earth and water bending skills (not serious, but super fun). When she is alone and it’s raining, she likes to read Haruki Murakami, or listen to the Broken Bells and daydream. If you want to be a fan, you can read Jenny’s work on fictionatwork.com, Blink-ink.com, Jersey Devil Press, dogeatcrow.com, Break Water Review,Stone Highway Review, Eighty Percent Magazine and InkSpill Magazine…or you can follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/jnylynn.