New York Times: Letter to the Editor

I have a little response to the recent op ed piece by Vicki Madden in today's New York Times (  She wrote about her experiences at an elite college and the difficulties she had in navigating the environment as a person from a poor rural community.  It's just a small observation about the need for schools to care for kids from backgrounds that differ from those of most of their students.  I was thinking also of Robert Rodriguez's excellent writing about crossing a bridge from his identity as a member of a Spanish speaking family and how he felt to be the interpreter, ambassador, and stranger among his own family after that experience.

It seems to me that we can think of Madden and Rodriguez when we treat kids with learning issues, and must be aware of the interplay between who our students are in their totality and their own abilities to summon the best in them for school.

When I began my work 20+ years ago in a homeless shelter, this was very much the lesson I took away.

Here is my response:

To the Editor:

Vicki Madden’s experience as a student from a rural background at an elite college has an important message to relate to colleges, which need to back up their interest in diversity with support that encourages students to succeed and weather the culture shock of entering an elite college environment.

Many colleges act as if their duty to help students from diverse backgrounds ends when they admit them. As Paul Tough points out in “Am I Supposed to Be Here? Am I Good Enough?” (New York Times Magazine, May 18), colleges that enable students to make sense of their experience and provide peer support help close the grade gap and enable students to finish college. Universities must commit to making the cultural challenges navigable to students; their job is not over at admission.

- Susan Micari

New York, Sept. 22, 2014

The writer is an educational therapist.