Gia Truong traces her goal of increasing equity in education to her own immigrant roots. Coming to the United States from Vietnam as a young child, she spoke very little English, and her life here gave her a sense that “language and education are transformative.” Today, Truong is the CEO of Envision Education, a network of three San Francisco Bay Area high schools that serve mainly low-income black and Latino students who are working to be the first in their families to go to college.
Creating a supportive culture that “interrupts education inequity” is vital for this community, according to Truong, which is why Envision focuses on making sure that its students have “a strong sense of self” and “feel empowered to change the world.” The numbers tell the story: In 2016, 99 percent of Envision students attended college, compared with 70 percent of high school students nationwide—and 90 percent of Envision students persisted in college from year one to year two.
Karimah Omer, a graduate of Envision Academy in downtown Oakland, California, is the first in her family to go to college, making her a role model to her younger siblings. But like many students in her diverse, low-income neighborhood, she faced academic, financial, and social obstacles—and almost didn’t make it.
As a child, Omer—whose family is of Yemeni Muslim descent—worried that college “was not going to be an option for me.” She carried a 4.0 grade point average, but her father was facing financial hardship, and she was concerned that her “appearance and ethnicity” were insurmountable hurdles. But in her sophomore year at Envision, a school at which both the cultural and academic environments are designed to prepare at-risk students for college, Omer began to flourish. Eventually she was awarded a scholarship, becoming one of the 99 percent of Envision graduates who go on to attend college.
Resources for Supporting First-Generation College Students
I’m First, a community for both students already in college and those still in high school
Straight From the Source: What Works for First-Generation College Students has recommendations for how to prepare these students to succeed in college
“How to Help First-Generation Students Succeed,” from TheAtlantic.com, reports on simple interventions like providing these students with a college mentor