At a school like Friends Academy, it’s easy to forget all of the privileges we have. Friends Academy is a school that costs a lot of money; as a result, much of the community is comprised of people who have a lot of money. Many of us, including myself, don’t think much of the high tuition and know that no matter what happens we will always be able to pay for it. Not all of us are afforded these luxuries, though. Many students at Friends Academy struggle to pay, and attend school with monetary assistance. This assistance is also known as financial aid.
A few weeks ago, two of my classmates had been discussing their experience with being on financial aid in front of me. I learned that there are a lot of stereotypes surrounding students who are on financial aid in our school as well as a lot of requirements that said students must meet in order to keep attending our school. My classmates noted the disparities between their academic and social lives compared to many students in our community who are extremely financially privileged. The discussion sparked my interest, and I decided to interview the two students, who would rather their names be kept secret, and share how they felt publicly.
Q: So what does it actually mean to be on financial aid? How do you differ from the “average” Friends Academy student?
Student #1: It’s just a little bit of help financially. Basically what it means is that you have to have “good” grades. So you can’t be failing all of your classes. Each year they reevaluate your progress and your grades in order for you to be readmitted to have another financial grant.
Student #2: I feel like for me, I have a lot more pressure put on me compared to other kids who don’t have financial help. Other kids get a bad grade and they don’t care; if I get a bad grade, I feel awful for days. And also for kids who are on financial aid, every late spring they send this letter. And you know it’s the letter because it comes from this special financial department. The letter tells you how much money you’re getting and so when you get the letter you’re always nervous.
S1: And every year you get scared that you’ll be getting less money because your grades have slipped or something has happened.
Q: Was your admissions process different than others?
S1: I think so, but at the time I didn’t really think much of it. They tested my math, interviewed me, I wrote an essay, and all of the other basic admissions processes. I was just in lower school back then. I didn’t think much of it.
S2: I know they needed my elementary school transcript and a recommendation from my teacher. It was a bit extensive and I know some other kids didn’t have to do the same things that I did, but I never thought much of it as a kid.
Q: Do you feel like because of financial aid, students in our school treat you differently?
S1: Well, not a lot of people know. I feel like in 6th grade when I had mentioned it, people said things like, “Oh you’re probably not even that smart. The school probably just feels bad or they’re doing it for diversity.”
S2: The only people I’ve told are people that I know are in similar financial situations, so they’re not really in a position to judge me. That’s just because I’m not really sure how others would react to it. I get worried about what other kids would think if I ever told them.
Q: Do you think there’s a divide between kids who don’t have to experience that and kids who do?
S2: Yes, definitely. Especially at our school to be honest. Some kids are like this and some kids aren’t, but you can definitely see that people judge others for the way that they dress. And a person’s financial situation definitely is a factor in what clothes they are able to wear. So if you’re someone who can’t afford to wear Vineyard Vines or buy Banana Republic turtlenecks, people will be able to tell. I feel like people in similar socioeconomic situations tend to stick together.
S1: In my grade, I don’t think there’s a legitimate divide. But there’s an underlying awkwardness when conversations come up about where I get my clothes from or my shoes from.
S2: True! It’s always like, “I got my shoes from Payless!”
S1: Yeah! And sometimes people are insecure about what they wear and where it’s from, so when people ask it gets a bit embarrassing or awkward.
Q: What do you think we can do to fix that? Because we have kids at our school who are part of the 1% and we have kids who are honestly struggling economically and I wonder how we could educate each other and have people treat each other nicely.
S1: The other day, someone asked me about people on financial aid and whether or not they had sufficient living conditions. So I guess people need to informed about what exactly financial aid actually is and how our school supplies it. Obviously someone being on financial aid doesn’t mean they live unstably. Most of us live quite comfortable lives. So education is important.
S2: That’s a really difficult question to answer because I feel that so many kids don’t want to learn. Like we’ve had so many different presentations over the years about social issues and you can see how some of the more privileged kids respond. I feel like if we try to educate them, they’re going to assume we’re targeting them even if that’s not the intention. I think that they’re confusing our attempts to educate them on how their words or actions may affect different people with accusations or attacks. And it’s understandable! If you grow up your whole life being surrounded by all these people who are like you, you’re not going to have a lot of knowledge about people who are different than you. Especially people whose situations are so drastically different than yours. But still, people have got to try.
Q: Are you guys hopeful, though? Do you think we can change the school?
S2: To be honest, no. I think that there could be some change, but there are always going to be people who are stuck in their ways.
S1: Yeah! I feel like there are always people who are there to switch around your words. They’ll be like, “Oh so we can’t wear Vineyard Vines anymore just because you’re uncomfortable?” But that’s not the point. Even I wear Vineyard Vines! Learning from the past, I just don’t think it’s going to happen quickly. It’ll definitely be a long journey.
S2: We’ve definitely got to go at it slowly. If you’re too strong, then they get overwhelmed. I think if we do it consistently and work at educating people, though, maybe there will be a change in the next century. Maybe.
Clearly, there are a lot of prejudices in our school that still need to be unlearned. A lot of us forget about the different people who attend classes with us everyday and their varying backgrounds. To be fair, it is easy to forget. We go to a school with people of different yet heavily similar lives. People having different economic statuses than us hardly ever crosses our minds and as a result, we can come off as rude or classist. But even if it’s easy to forget the different socioeconomic classes that make up our community, it is still our job to make sure that everyone feels equal. We all have a responsibility to make Friends Academy a school where everybody feels welcome no matter what.