Pubdate: Mon, 12 Feb 2007
Source: Kansas City Star (MO)
Copyright: 2007 The Kansas City Star
Author: Connie Spies
Note: Connie Spies is a counselor at Metropolitan Community
College-PennValley. She lives in Gladstone.


My students are my heroes.

Working at an urban community college, many times the issues we hear
from students are very different from the ones heard on the suburban
campuses. The problems that our students struggle with on a daily
basis are amazing and unbelievable. They are trying to attend college
in the middle of a war. A war that is going on in our own city: a war
on drugs, crime, education, poverty and guns. They are the people that
we have already cut and run from.

Here are just a few recent issues: a woman is dealing with the
residual effects of being shot with an AK-47 in a drive-by shooting. A
young man facing the possibility of being homeless seriously
contemplates going back to selling drugs. It will bring him some quick
money. And a young woman determined to come to school even though she
has no family support whatsoever. In fact, her family cannot wait for
her Social Security check to come in so they can help themselves to
part of it. Not only are they not supportive, they are trying to
sabotage her positive behavior.

I knew that AK-47s were used in the streets of Baghdad, but I didn't
realize they were causing damage in the streets of Kansas City. It
made me angry to remember that despite George Bush's promise to renew
the ban on assault weapons, he allowed the ban to expire in September
of 2004.

I understand that drugs are a huge problem for all communities in our
area. However, law enforcement resources seem to be concentrated in
low-income, predominantly minority urban areas. The fact that blacks
make up about 13 percent of regular drug users in the United States,
but they make up 62.7 percent of all drug offenders admitted to
prison, tells me that we have an additional crisis to deal with.

The issues of generational poverty are extremely complicated. The
family members often fear that with too much education the individual
might leave them. Relationships are valued over achievement. Not
having outside support makes it tremendously difficult for the student
to persevere.

The tribulations of our urban city dwellers have long been a problem.
For several decades, we have been sprawling into thousands of
self-interested suburbs. State and federal money has gone toward
maintaining autonomous governments and schools in those suburbs, as
well as building and paving roads to take people to the suburbs.
Unfortunately, it has left little money for resources for people
living in our cities. I see the results of this lack of resources on a
daily basis.

Sometimes the needs and problems of my students are so overwhelming to
me, and I don't know what I can do to help. Then I realize that
sometimes the best I can do is to stand there with them, not hold them
down, and not give them any more negative voices than they have
already been given by society.

Connie Spies is a counselor at Metropolitan Community
College-PennValley. She lives in Gladstone.
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