Living in the graffiti-adorned projects of the Lower East Side, I’ve adjusted well to low-income living. Stuyvesant High School’s done a first-rate job on making me feel like an outcast for it.
“You can get a fee waiver once you give us a copy of your parent’s 1040 tax forms,” Ms. Cleary automatically explained.
“My parents don’t have tax forms,” I said pointedly. “They don’t fill them out.”
“Of course they file tax forms,” she shot back. “Everyone does.” After a few more minutes of fruitless discussion, I left the College Office, unsuccessful. I would pay for SAT II exams, again.
Even with fee waivers, applying to college is pricey. Sending test scores to more than 4 colleges cost money, AP exams fees are reduced but not obliterated, and I’d love to meet the genius who thought of charging a fee for applying for financial aid. When approaching Ms. Cleary for help with the CCS Profile – I didn’t know where to indicate welfare and food stamp income – she asked me which school I chose to apply to.
“M.I.T.,” I replied.
“Oh, M.I.T.?” she mused. “How ironic, that you’re applying to M.I.T. and yet you can’t fill out a form…” I don’t consider my school’s administration supportive or welcoming.
My family felt strained enough paying $57 for senior dues when I attended middle school. Being a senior at Stuy is much, much worse. So far, this year’s classes have demanded about $270 total in textbooks, workbooks, art supplies, and other expenses. When my teachers ask whether anyone will have trouble paying for their supplies, no one speaks up and an awkward silence ensues.
While academic costs have mostly been waived, high school memories are not priceless. Yearbook photos just came in, and packages cost from $86 to about $230. I’ll probably wear an old dress and take the subway to my senior prom, which will probably set me back another $160. I will not get a class ring.
Many of my friends carry $10 and $20 daily, while I get $5 on a good day. Most of their parents are middle to upper class, working as teachers, lawyers, programmers, doctors, writers, social workers, or scientists, unlike my mother who is excused from work because of illness. Some of my classmates come from private schools, and many buy prep books for exams and have been in expensive SAT prep courses since middle school. They seem unable to comprehend my situation; the blank, baffled looks on their faces upon learning I have no cable television, cell phone, or air conditioning shock me.
“We do it because we want you to be happy,” my grandmother had explained to me when giving me $60 to attend a discounted college trip. Even in a nation governed by socioeconomic class, I believe that happiness and perseverance are enough for success. Although I use second-hand paints and brushes in acrylic painting class, I know that my painting will look just as striking.