Addressing Inequality with Trio Programs


Today is Blog Action Day and the theme is inequality. It is appropriate, therefore, to share some thoughts on some programs that have been around a long time to help alleviate the challenge of inequality–federal Trio programs.

Most people have not heard of Trio, yet the first programs began in 1965 and have helped millions of people gain education beyond high school. They are called Trio programs because originally there were three programs–Upward Bound, Educational Talent Search and Student Support Services. The first two work with students in high school and the third with students in college. The idea of these programs is to assist disadvantaged students with higher education attainment and success. Disadvantaged in this case means students from low-income families, who are of the first generation to go to college, or who have disabilities.

Upward Bound was the first program, started in 1965, as one response to the War on Poverty. The program continues to work with high school students, guiding and coaching them on how to succeed in high school, how to apply to college, and how to be successful once they get to college. Talent Search was added in 1964, a similar but not as time-intensive program, and Student Support Services, working with college students to help them be successful once they got to college, began in 1968. Since then five more programs have been added to work with adult learners, veterans, college students who strive to attain graduate degrees, and others.

The Council for Opportunity in Education (COE), a nonprofit membership organization for Trio programs across the country, notes that over two million students in Trio programs have attained higher education degrees. These programs are a huge success for this country. They help those who might not otherwise go to college to do so. This obviously helps them, but I would argue it helps us all. Getting a degree means having more opportunities, and it means being a more informed citizen. Our democracy wins when more people go to college.

I have worked in these programs for several years, and I have seen stories of success. I have seen the Bosnian and Vietnamese and Sudanese refugee families send their children to college, despite working minimum wage jobs because that is all they can get in the United States. I have seen students who have gone to several public schools before graduation (in one case a student I worked with attended 12 schools in as many different towns) still get the support they need to get to college. I have seen students become college student government presidents and start their own businesses and become nurses. And students have told me that they would not have gotten as far without Trio programs.

Does it work for every student? No it doesn’t. When I see a student get pregnant her first year in college and then drop out, when I see a student give up in her first semester, when I see a student simply not start and work for minimum wage for years, I do get discouraged. But then I see a former student who is still plugging away part time in Community College classes, determined to get that degree, and I am hopeful again.

We all should know more about these programs, and we should support them. They are cost effective, they are well respected, and they work. For more information check out COE’s Trio programs summary page. And if you are up for it, tell your representatives in Washington to support Trio programs. They are the ones who vote to keep them going. If we want to fight inequality we sometimes have the tools we need in hand. We just need to know we’ve got them to use.

Water in and Out

Morning Rain

Rain. That’s what we’ve got. And plenty of it. It started raining last night just after dark. And it kept falling. All night, all morning. It is still raining.  I sat in a morning workshop for a few hours today and I kept looking out the window. I was distracted by rain. It fell hard and never let up. My umbrella got some use, as did my windshield wipers. And my boots. It is wet.

It is snowing up high. The road up the way is flooded. The road up the other way will likely be flooded by tomorrow. A bit of a mess. The frogs love it. It replenishes the water table. We won’t run out of water in the house any time soon. My water bottle will be full.

Yesterday I worked at a school. Students dumped quarters into the vending machine slots to get water. Right next to the water fountain. Right next to the restroom with running water. They washed their hands with water clean enough to drink, then spent money to buy water.  Then tossed the empty plastic bottle in the trash.  What gives with that?

People from across the thought spectrum in the United States talk about “common sense.” And then we spend millions of dollars on bottled water. Common sense?  I’m not so sure of that. And we throw away the bottles. Again, is this common sense? No way Jose.

I have a colleague who feels bottled water is totally fine because “I always recycle the bottles.” Good for you! But if you did not purchase the bottled water to begin with you would save lots of resources and money and energy. And your purse would be fatter.

The rain falls and falls. Free water. Clean water. Healthy water. If you on board with understanding the tragedy and the scam of bottled water, then I’m glad to hear it. If not, then consider watching the Story of Stuff video about bottled water.  It might enlighten you.

For other stories about water issues around the world, check out the Blog Action Day web site.

Eating Around Here

I made dinner tonight and let me tell you it was good stuff.  It was simple, really, but a simple pleasure.  I scrambled up eggs and cheese and we ate it with greens. The greens were as simple as the eggs–leeks, garlic, peppers and kale with some salt and butter.  The combination was tasty, tastier than I thought it would be.  It felt good to eat food so wholesome and healthy.  And it felt good to know that almost everything came from right around here.

The leeks and kale came from our farm share. Our last pick up was Tuesday and we got a lot. We used some of it tonight. The peppers came from our garden–the last of them to be picked. The butter was Cabot butter, so also fairly local. The cheese in the eggs was also Cabot, and the eggs came from Maple Meadow Farm in Salisbury (the eggs could be more local, I admit, but this wasn’t bad). The olive oil traveled far to get to us, as did the salt, but those are hard to get from local sources.

The one thing that was questionable was garlic. That came from a farm somewhere, but that’s all I know. Our farm share did not include garlic several times in a row–they didn’t have a great year. I missed the farmer’s market last Saturday–I couldn’t get there until too late. And our local market, which often has good local produce, didn’t have any local garlic, so I bought what was there, even though I hate not to know the source of my food. Part of the reason we had no garlic was that the garlic I bought at the farmer’s market a couple weeks ago I planted in the ground. I want to make sure I have plenty next year, so I planted all the cloves and hope for them to burst out of the ground in spring. That would make things local, eh?

So our meal had only a few food miles. It is simply crazy that our food system means we can get cheap food that is transported hundreds or thousands or miles. How is it that we can spend 87 calories to get one calorie and not pay more for that one calorie than we do? How is it that we are OK with the poor quality of those strawberries or winter tomatoes when we buy them, out of season? We ship food all over the place so we can eat whatever we want whenever we want it. So we get poor quality food and we burn up all kinds of oil to get it and we pump CO2 into the atmosphere like mad (literally) when we could could have better food at less real cost if we ate locally. So I try to do that.

Having a garden helps. Taking part in a community supported agriculture program helps. Living in Vermont helps, as local food is available much of the year because people care about it. And canning and freezing helps, too, as that means we can spread the harvest out over the cold months. I am new to canning but thanks to my parents giving me a tutorial, I have canned my second batch of jam. I have pesto and pumpkin and soup in the freezer and will freeze more. I could do better and, with some experience and over time, I will. Pulling pesto out of the freezer in January is just about the best thing ever.

Keeping my food miles down is important. I don’t want my food traveling more in a year than I do. It is one thing I, and collectively we, can do to make a difference to abate global warming. Eating locally can make a big difference in limiting carbon emissions, since we all need to eat. One day we will be forced to eat more locally, since oil will get expensive and raspberries from temperate climes won’t be cheap to ship in the winter. Plus, food usually tastes better if it hasn’t traveled half way around the world. And it has more in it, so it is healthier. Sure, if we eat locally we don’t get to have anything we want whenever we want it, but waiting for things makes them sweeter, sometimes literally. And I can wait for a little sweetness.

(This post is part of Blog Action Day).