First in the Family: Advice about College from First-Generation Students – Your High School Years by Kathleen Cushman.
Next Generation Press, Providence, Rhode Island, 2005.
Nonfiction, 80 pages.
This book gives encouragement and advice to high school students who may be the first in their families to attend college. It includes many personal stories and quotations from students who have similar journeys.
One of the main focuses of this slim volume is encouraging teens from minority groups to attend college and pursue careers rather than jobs. This book is specifically aimed at diverse high school students who have no family members that have attended college.
I bought this book because it was on clearance for a dollar at Barnes & Noble. I’m not the first member of my family to attend college, and neither was Husband. I don’t work with high school students, but wanted to review it here. After reading it and starting to write this review, I discovered there is a free interactive online version of the text. The second book The College Years, is also available online for free in a PDF format. I look forward to exploring those resources more at a later time.
This rather short book manages to pack in seven chapters, plus an introduction, conclusion, and quite a bit of back matter. The text is broken up by several full-page black-and-white photographs. Longer quotes are broken down into indented paragraphs in a bold font, and even though the chapters are fairly short, they are further segmented into various sections with topical headings.
All of this combines to keep this book from being overwhelming. It felt very manageable and possible for even a middle school student to read. At every step of the way, there is advice and encouragement from others who have been there.
The text includes stories from students who had dropped out of high school and decided to pursue college later. Stories of kids told they shouldn’t even try for college or ignored by their teachers and guidance counselors. Most importantly, it gives practical advice for those situations. The main message of this text is to persevere, and keep trying even if there are setbacks.
Students from a variety of backgrounds are included. Some are white, but there are also black and Hispanic students, a teenage immigrant, an Ojibwe-Cree student, and so on. Some are parents, some dropped out of high school, one only spoke Chinese and started as an ESL student. Some have family members that supported their going to college, while others had families that opposed it. What all of them have in common is that they all have made it successfully through at least one year of college – most are sophomores.
The main text concludes on page 61. After that, the final twenty pages include a list of resources for finding information and scholarships and finally the most valuable part of the book. The very end breaks down the process into a year-by-year plan, with check boxes and areas to write notes on your progress. Starting from ninth grade, each year of high school has specific plans and suggestions. I think this would be very helpful to students who didn’t have family experience with college.
While this book is no longer in print, I would still suggest getting a copy for any school or classroom library where some of your students are first in the family. Some children might not have good internet access or feel comfortable approaching the guidance counselors without encouragement. This book would be great for high school students or even middle school. It could be especially powerful as an eighth grade graduation gift.