Empowering our Youth Today to Secure a Better Future Tomorrow
By Visaal Ieeman
A Rigorous and Fateful Transition
So many students struggle in the transition from their 8th-grade year to the beginning of their high school career. The majority of the students we see struggling today, are mainly from underrepresented communities. Underrepresented communities consist of first-generation students, families with low income, communities of color, immigrants, etc. Their reasons for struggling could very easily vary; some struggles could be academic, some could be emotional, some physical and some psychological. Nonetheless, making sure that the transition is successful allows the student to build long-lasting qualities at a young age which surely will benefit them in the future. Having a strong support system and people willing to listen to what you have to say and what you would like can constitute a successful transition. However, in these underrepresented communities, students are usually unlikely to find such a system. Alongside this problem, many other things that can cause an unsuccessful transition into high school for students from these communities. Some students are unable to find any motivation or willingness to do well in school, nevermind their everyday life. Another group of students aim for the stars but aren’t provided the tools to reach them. Other students genuinely don’t know what a successful transition looks like. They could sincerely believe that they are transitioning amazingly, but people who are looking in from the outside see them crash. The sad truth is that this time during a teenager’s life shapes them for the future and a majority of them don’t even realize it. The lack of guidance at this point in their lives will manifest into a lack of direction for the most important days in their adult lives, and their reactions can no longer be blamed on the fact that, “they are just teenagers, they’ll learn at some point.” However, if nobody helps them find their way, they won’t “learn” at some point; they will continue their lives as they did while they were teenagers, unaware of the consequences of their actions.
My Personal Experience
I know that I struggled a lot while entering high school. Personally, I am a first generation family member; meaning my parents were the first immigrants in their family history to come from Pakistan to the United States in hopes of a better life for their children. Although my parents received a high level of education in Pakistan, when they came to the U.S., their education was worthless and both my Mom and Dad started their lives over with barely anything. Naturally, they wished the best for us, but when it was time to enter their kids into schools that would challenge their children’s’ thinking, they were at a loss. Because they fulfilled their education in Pakistan, my parents were and somewhat still are unfamiliar with the U.S. education system. This definitely negatively impacted the quality of education my sisters and I received. While sending out my application for high schools, I was so lost. I knew I couldn’t ask my parents for help and asking my older sister was basically like trying to maintain a deep conversation with a rock, so I reached out to my guidance counselor. I wish I could say that her help is what guided me throughout the application process and into the transition, but then I would be lying. Each school only receives about 1-2 guidance counselors per grade filled with around 200 students, so each counselor isn’t able to sit down and listen to your interests and what you want because they have about 199 more students to reach out to. Guidance counselors are also older, so they have a harder time relating to their middle school student body due to their age gap. So how do you find people that are interested in lending a helping hand to an 8th grader who’s looking for a smooth and successful transition into their high school career? Through The Link Scholars!
A Mission with the Ingredients for Success
I have always been told is that creating good habits early on is the key to success and this easily correlates with the goal of TLS. The Link Scholars was designed to level the playing field and solve the problem of education inequality. This organization aims to create an equitable opportunity for every student regardless of income, background or social status. Link Scholars seeks to bridge the gap between students who come from low-income backgrounds and their level of academic success by building a strong foundation at a young age.
A Lack of Guidance
Students at a young age are a lot more impressionable and if they are given a strong foundation at a young age, early on they will be able to stand on their own feet and become independent. Addressing the problem with there only being 1-2 guidance counselors in a school to aid their students, at TLS we match each mentee up with one mentor and although there is a maximum number of mentees a mentor can have, the ultimate goal is to make sure that each mentee is getting the individualized and relatable attention that they deserve. When asked what inspired the team to create/join TLS, the responses were pretty similar. Our Outreach Director, Norphel Sherpa said, “Facing the ambiguity of the NYC high school application as a first generation student myself, The Link Scholar’s mission aligned exactly with mine. Which was to empower the youth through professional, academic and personal growth. I joined this amazing program to help minority students whose parents aren’t familiar with the high school process and cannot give them the guidance that they deserve to succeed in high school, college and in their daily lives.” Our Development Director, Ahmed Hussain stated, “When I first came to New York City in 2012 I felt lost and alone because I had no sense of how to navigate the expansive city. I was given the responsibility of choosing my high school and creating a path for myself to college and eventually towards a career. That’s a lot to ask of a 15 year old. My parents were immigrants so they had little understanding of the process I had to undertake. This situation is not an uncommon one in such a diverse city that is bustling with so many different people from so many different backgrounds. My mission is to help those students that are in the same predicament I was. I want The Link Scholars to reach out and raise up those students that feel they can’t do it. I joined The Link Scholars to help my students Make It Happen. Statistically speaking, students like myself are destined to fail but I’m here because I want to change what the statistics have to say about us.” Both Norphel and Ahmed joined the team when our Program Director, Priyata Ahmed Richy and our Founder/Executive Director Maesha Sonar came up with the idea of TLS. Priyata responded to the question of why her and Maesha wanted to create TLS by saying, “As a first generation, low-income, immigrant woman of color I am a little too familiar with the challenges facing underrepresented students. I immigrated to the U.S. in middle school and struggled making the transition from middle school to high school immensely. I was bullied for my accent and how I dressed and had no one to guide me in the high school application process and through my transition into high school. I went into high school with no knowledge of the issues that I would face and luckily I found support through various programs that work with underrepresented students in high school. Having faced these challenges myself I recognized the value in early intervention and joined Maesha in creating The Link Scholars. My goal is to equip underrepresented students with the proper foundation to succeed in high school in beyond so that they may support themselves and learn to seek out the right resources to aid in their endeavors.” This exemplifies how the people who created the Link Scholars team aren’t doing it because they have to. They help these students because at one point in their lives, they were these students. They didn’t have anyone to help them or guide them and they don’t want any middle school student to be in the place they used to be in, knowing that the Link Scholars team could help them.
What We Do at The Link Scholars
The Link Scholars aides in many different criteria of the transition process that may be overlooked by some schools. For example, in the academics portion, TLS helps with the high school application process, essay critique, and also provides advice and tips for the high school workload in specific advanced courses (APs, Honors, College Now, etc.) Another part of the transition TLS helps students with is one of the most important ones and often overlooked; personal and professional etiquette. According to research, many students that come from underrepresented communities face the imposter syndrome and as a result, choose not to perform or participate at the same level as their peers. The Link Scholars facilitates workshops that work on the student’s personal growth and cultivates an environment that fabricates their comfort zone. Coupled with this is professional development and the teaching of certain etiquette that can be applied in interviews, emails and other platforms. Over at Link Scholars, the team members and mentors stress the importance of self-care; especially when it comes to taking the SHSAT and the overwhelming workload that comes with high school. We work with students to find techniques that will allow them to explore their hobbies and interests while at the same time bettering their mental health and allowing them to focus on self-care alongside their studies. Youth empowerment is not a linear process, it is a structural, emotional, and attitudinal journey and with proper education access and guidance you, I, we, can encourage a sense of authority and agency in today’s youth. Many underrepresented communities constrain their potential in artificial boundaries and The Link Scholars is here to break those very boundaries. Alice Hoffman once said, “every problem has a solution” and we want YOU to be a part of our solution. Be the YOU in YOUth empowerment and help us change a student’s future today.