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Helping Tucson's children

Katie Paulson
By Katie Paulson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, December 6, 2005
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On warmer, sunnier days, their laughter rings across the UA Mall, breaking the mundane shuffle of footsteps of weary college students, sleep-deprived and stress-filled. Their coos over the immense structures surrounding them shed new light on the campus that we take for granted.

Children. Outspoken, imaginative and precarious individuals who need attention, encouragement and love. Not so long ago, you embodied those qualities. Those were the days of swinging on monkey bars, passing notes in class and creating fantastical worlds full of dragons, princes, princesses and the mystical lot.

Yet, too many children today aren't allowed to cultivate the same playful experiences. Instead of watching television, they're scrounging through garbage cans in futile attempts to find sustainable nourishment for that evening. Instead of kicking around a soccer ball, they're working in unsafe conditions, underage and underpaid for their efforts.

What's worse: This is happening in the U.S. Most importantly, it's happening under our noses. As we mill around the campus oblivious to the outside community, we fail to see the dire situation evolving with regard to Tucson youth.

A UNICEF report from June found that one-quarter of all Tucson children live below the poverty line. Moreover, another 29 percent live in low-income families. Statistically, we're talking about half of Tucson's children growing up in a socioeconomic cycle that's unbreakable to their jaded eyes.

Imagine growing up in a familial structure that dismissed the notion of higher education as a waste of time or an unattainable idea. Perhaps you were the individual who broke free from the bonds of such negative mentalities. Or perhaps, like most, there was no other expectation but to pursue a university education after completion of high school.

Elementary, junior high and high school students don't always have this luxury, especially those who attend Title I schools. In order for a school to receive a Title I label, 40 percent or more of the student-population must qualify for the free- or reduced-governmental lunch programs. In the Tucson Unified School District, there are more than 40 Title I schools.

Imagine growing up in a family that dismissed the notion of higher education as a waste of time.

But, without interacting with these students, you can't understand how their minds comprehend the world around them. In my experiences, I've dealt with uninterested, unmotivated students who envision college as an idea reserved for others with more financial resources or as a ridiculous waste of time.

Yet, children are impressionable at this age, which we must take advantage of to dispel the myths of higher education.

I volunteer for an organization that takes underprivileged children on weekend camping trips in order to promote college as an attainable goal. We hosted an on-campus camp in spring last year and brought roughly 25 students from an alternative middle school.

Although they proclaimed that the weekend would be "cool" because they wouldn't have to be at home, they shared their future plans, which didn't include "useless school." Most wanted to work in auto repair shops, which echoed their older siblings' experiences.

However, after spending a mere three days exploring our campus, interacting with college students and participating in activities from all fields housed in our different departments (bottle rockets from the aerospace engineering area was a unanimous favorite), these previously uninterested seventh and eighth graders now walked around bright eyed and enthusiastic, discussing their potential pursuits for when they came to the UA.

While this might parallel a Lifetime original movie, it's the truth. Your simple efforts could impact a child's life. Who would think that by just exposing a child to a university campus, coupled with positive feedback, could create this newfound passion for a future life?

Once finals end and the holiday vacation begins, reflect on your fortunate position as a UA student. Then, take a proactive stance and reach out next semester to help end the disparity between the college-bound and college-repelled.

Everyone deserves a chance at reveling in a university setting. If society at large can't help pull those most deserving from the socioeconomic mire, it's up to us, those in the midst of the educational process, to offer a hand.

Katie Paulson is a junior majoring in English and political science. She can be reached at

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