YAKIMA, Wash. -- This newspaper recently published articles related to a lack of college success among our youth in the Yakima Valley. Experts have suggested that poverty, lack of higher education of parents and ignorance of opportunity contribute to this disparity. However, a significant number of students at Heritage University have surmounted these supposed barriers.
Many students at Heritage are the first in their families to attend college. Most still live at home, commuting from all over the Valley every day to attend college. They may not have the funds to fully pay for college, but they do not suffer from poverty of spirit. Most of them are encouraged and supported by their parents, even though they did not attend college. Like most of us parents, they want their children to surpass them in knowledge and accomplishments. They know that a college education is a gift that no one can ever take away from their child.
Among the students at Heritage are young people who were never encouraged to seek a college education in their high schools. They were seen as less than capable likely due to bias and low expectations. Many students from Heritage have gone on to study at some of our nation’s most prestigious schools. A cadre of nine nursing students recently graduated with bachelor’s degrees in nursing. Some of them grew up in migrant housing, trailer homes or cars, and some were homeless. But they were not poor. Their families provided what they could and encouraged them to succeed. They will now care for us here in the Yakima Valley.
Many of our students have succeeded in spite of serious challenges such as personal illness, deportation of a parent or disrespect and ignorance of their native cultures. They succeed because someone in their life believed in them and encouraged them to aspire to educational goals that other young people take for granted.
So, what do the children of the Yakima Valley need from us? First, they need for us to inform them that they are as smart and gifted as anyone. We should do this not to make them feel good, but because it is true. Second, they need mentoring. If you interact with a young person at any level, you should share your story and take a personal interest in their growth. Third, they need money for school. Through the generosity of many donors and the hard work of our financial aid team, we are able to find funds for students at Heritage so they can complete their degree with manageable debt.
What they don’t need is pity or low expectations from us. What they don’t need are leaders in education who find reasons to explain why they can’t be successful.
I encourage you to recognize the great talent and potential among our youth. Encourage them. Mentor them. And if you are able, donate your time, talent and resources to their education. Every one of us will benefit from their education.
• Roy Simms is a local pediatrician and member of the board of directors at Heritage University. He lives in Yakima.