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Students First in the New Normal

By Angelica Melendez

new normal

We cannot go back to normal. As a college admission professional who has worked at a large public institution; a rural high school; and currently at a large, Title 1 public high school, I have had the privilege to work with a wide range of students and families. Education has been touted to be society’s great equalizer; however, we must acknowledge the inequality and injustices many of our students face.

As a profession, many of us made the shift to working from home in the spring. But the reality wasn’t just a shift in location. We were working during and in reaction to a crisis. It was a crisis for the world, our nation, our profession, and our students. Many of our cohorts were furloughed or lost their employment. Some students struggled to maintain contact with us while completing their academic year because of limited access to technology… or the need to share devices with their siblings.

We cannot go back to normal. As our students grappled with the loss of vital and important milestones and celebrations, we became innovators with virtual proms, decision days, and graduations. We need to continue to be innovative so we can ensure access, equity, and the safety for our most marginalized students.

It may not be enough to move to test-optional or test-blind—we must truly re-evaluate the admission process. From prospect to matriculant, where are the gaps in the recruitment cycle? Are talented and gifted students attending large, urban public high schools afforded the opportunities to visit with you? Is the financial aid verification process, which places the onus on the poorest of students to prove lack of income, prohibiting students from educational attainment? Advocating for institutional, state, and federal policy changes that directly impact students begins with each of us. Sadly, we were recently reminded by the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others that we must continue (or for some begin) to think about how to protect vulnerable student groups from discomfort, discrimination, and violence. We must use our voices for our students in new, thoughtful ways to protect them from systemic societal issues.

We cannot go back to normal. My philosophy has always been students first. From my time as an admission counselor to my current work in the high school setting, my decision-making process has been centered on my students and how my work impacts their futures. Just a few short months ago, as a profession, we were worried that changes to NACAC’s code of ethics had eliminated the protections our students had in the college admission process. Today the world is in an even more dire place. Protections for our students must include safe spaces on our college campuses and K-12 classrooms, and access to mental health services in both the physical and virtual arenas.

NACAC, as an organization, cannot dictate your school mission or what you should do to protect your students. NACAC members are made up of a diverse group of educators who are actively supporting students' college choices and each other every day with their advocacy and calls to action.

Students first, always.

We cannot go back to normal.

Angelica Melendez is the college and financial aid specialist at South San Antonio High School (TX) and a NACAC board director.

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