David Gutierrez ’15 smiles and greets everyone he sees as he walks between classes. Gutierrez is an integral member of the Andover community, but his journey to Andover, which began 12 years ago, has been anything but average.
David Gutierrez’s family has held political asylum in the United States since they immigrated here from Colombia in 2002. His father, Jairo, works as a housekeeper, while his mother, Luz, is a caregiver in a senior center. They rent a small apartment on Rogers Street in Hightstown, NJ. Amidst trying circumstances, Jairo and Luz see boundless opportunities in education for their son.
“I expect you to go way above your father and I did in Colombia,” said Luz Gutierrez in a phone conversation with her son and The Phillipian. “Hopefully, you go to university and get a doctorate. If you don’t succeed above us, then we just wasted our time here.”
After immigrating to the United States from Colombia, Gutierrez attended Grace N. Rogers Elementary in 2002, where he first learned English and began to excel in academics.
In eighth grade, a teacher saw potential in Gutierrez and encouraged him to apply to Peddie, a private boarding and day school in Hightstown. His financial situation, however, barred him from admission.
“At the time, we weren’t likely to admit him because our budget was limited. A large part of this was due to the recovery period after the market crashed in 2008, so the financial aid budget was returning to normal,” said Dana Brown, who interviewed Gutierrez then. Brown is the former Peddie Admissions Officer and currently the Senior Associate Director of Admissions at Hotchkiss.
Brown suggested Gutierrez apply to Andover, a need-blind school that could take on his financial situation, so Gutierrez spent his ninth grade year at Hightstown High before applying to Andover as a repeat Junior.
“I filled out the forms [my parents] were supposed to fill out because they were too busy working. I’m guessing that curiosity and pride motivated me to come. I read that Andover was the most prestigious private school. And for a kid with no funds, this sounded like the complete opposite of what I was used to,” said Gutierrez.
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Gutierrez is afforded the opportunity to attend Andover because of its need-blind financial initiative, which provides 47 percent of Andover’s student body with some form of financial aid, and 13 percent with full scholarships. Gutierrez is one of the 13 percent. He is a full-aid student.
The need-blind initiative that supports Gutierrez took root in the Andover’s 2004 strategic plan, which emphasized re-examining the school’s founding mission to educate “youth from every quarter.” Since 2007, no student has been denied admission because of his or her inability to pay, said Jim Ventre ’79, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid.
The Financial Aid team at the Admission Office does its best to make sure that students like Gutierrez do not feel ostracized. Students on full financial aid are provided computers, a support group that meets monthly and a weekly $20 allowance. In addition, they are given aid when traveling on school-sponsored programs or trips during breaks.
If students ever feel that they’re lacking something, Financial Aid allows them to reallocate funds to purchase essential items. Last winter, for example, the team helped Gutierrez purchase a pair of boots outside of his allowance for the cold winter months. He recounts, however, that his purchase came out of his allowance for other expenses, such as travel compensation for his parents.
“[Need blind is] very powerful not only for financial aid students, but also for full-pay students. For full-pay students, they’re admitted on the merit of their application, not because they can pay. That allows for a diverse community where students are valued on their contribution and their talent and not on their family’s background,” said Ventre.
But as hard as the financial office tries to make full-aid students feel at home, some such as Jason Young ’15, feel uncomfortable with class differences at times.
“There have been times where classmates are going on vacations and I have been invited, but because my parents cannot pay for a ticket, I have had to decline. Or when I was in the Den during lunch and a commercial for, what I believed to be, very nice and rather expensive suits had come on and a group of students laughed about them being for poor people,” said Young.
Across campus, he noted, students flaunt their $1300 Macbook Pros, while full financial aid students use $540 Dell E6420s provided by the school.
“In French House, there were four of us with the very same laptop, but all of the guys in the dorm didn’t care, but when it got into classrooms it became very different. Everyone would have their MacBooks and then there would be two or three of us in a class with the laptops and people would ask, ‘Why do you all have the same laptops?’” said Young.
For a student on full financial aid, a smartphone is also sometimes simply out of reach. Even if the student received a free smartphone on a two-year contract, a $40 monthly data plan would require two weeks of school allowance each month.
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**The Social Adjustment**
“At the beginning, it did feel like I was an outsider. I remember meeting only two kids that I could instantly relate to, Benny Ogando [’15] and Jason [Young]. Everyone else seemed to be the opposite of me,” said Gutierrez.
Ogando, from Bronx, NY., and Gutierrez were paired as roommates in French House, a Junior Boys dorm. They grew close with another financial aid student in their dorm, Young. Immediately, the three were wary of the differences between
themselves and other Andover students.
While Gutierrez wore his best Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch attire for matriculation, his peers wore Brooks Brothers and Vineyard Vines, brands Gutierrez had never heard about before coming to Andover.
Young said, “When some of the other guys walked up [in orientation] with their salmon shorts and pants, the first question I had asked was, ‘What are those? Why would anyone want to wear pink shorts? Why are they so short?’ Coming from the Detroit area where a pair of baggy jeans or shorts that go below your knees was normal, this was the most foreign thing to me.”
“But what really shocked me was the difference in the price of these shorts and other accessories in comparison to my own. After seeing the Brooks Brothers website, I wondered: why would I pay so much for a pair of shorts or boat shoes that didn’t even look that cool?” he continued.
Kids at Andover often seemed to not use the same language as Young, Gutierrez and Ogando; they seemed to abide by the Oxford English Dictionary, not the Urban Dictionary online. Slang like “dough,” “hit” or “goon” didn’t make its way around campus. Instead, students used “cash,” “creepy” or “socially awkward,” said Gutierrez.
In Ogando’s Bronx or Young’s Detroit, students at parties would form circles around the best dancers, who would show off their latest moves.
“In Detroit, when my friends and I gathered to have parties, our idea of a good time was dancing. We really did not need to grind or go to dances with the goal of leaving with someone. Dancing was cheap and a good way to to have fun with your friends, and it has always been a huge part of black culture for those reasons,” said Young.
At a stressful place like Andover, students don’t have the time to engage in meaningful relationships, Ogando said. Students who had never even spoke with each other were hooking up after dances.
“[At home] you gotta sweet talk the girl, take her out, put in actual effort and then maybe you can get with her,” said Ogando.
Just like Gutierrez and Young, Ogando feels separate from the Andover culture at times.
“I wasn’t aware of is how ‘clique-y’ you can become. People will assume that minorities only ‘like’ hanging out with minorities but it’s not true. We just feel sometimes that we can only [hang out with minorities]. That’s not to say we feel like that all the time or that even all of us feel like that, but it does happen,” said Ogando.
For Ogando, the workers at Paresky Commons have become his “family” on campus, he said.
“They are much underappreciated at this school. The Common’s workers aren’t maids or servants, they don’t have to pick up your plates and napkins because you were too lazy or too privileged to pick them up yourself. They were wonderful when I first visited and have continued to just be amazing people overall whom I can converse with and have a nice and relaxing conversation that isn’t always school related,” said Ogando.
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The misconceptions Ogando, Gutierrez and Young face on campus are a small threat in comparison to the challenges they face in the classroom.
Even though Young attended a prep program called “Yes! for Prep” before attending Andover, he was shell-shocked academically when he came to Andover,
“Speaking up in some classes is harder, because I am surrounded by people who have been groomed for this setting. Their parents have paid for them to take part in many of the discussions that we have in English, History or Rel Phil and for some of us financial aid students, that is intimidating that we may not have something as valuable to offer,” said Young.
Former CAMD Scholar Angela Leocata ’13, who wrote a paper titled “The American Reality: The Effect of Socioeconomic Class on the Educational Process, said, “Some kids at Andover went to schools that prepared them for prep schools. Other kids went to public schools. If you look at some public school systems, there’s a gap in resources, a gap in the type of teachers who are teaching there, and there’s a gap in school culture.”
When Ogando attended Mott Hall III in the Bronx, he would often be the only student raising his hand, completing his homework and getting straight A’s on his tests. When Ogando came to Andover, he realized that everyone raised their hand and completed their homework. People articulated their thoughts clearly and sometimes spoke about things he had never heard about or seen.
“The preparation gap is not related to the students’ intelligence or ability to contribute to the classroom, but challenge in a way where they have not seen material or had the same level of instruction or depth of instruction previously,” said Ventre.
Leocata added, “Schools like Andover do a really fantastic job at opening the doors for students from all socioeconomic backgrounds. But there’s definitely a lack of support once students get in… The lack of education preparedness and the lack of cultural capital is a problem. I think what Andover needs to focus on is [that] it’s great that we have ‘Youth from every quarter,’ but we have to make ‘Youth from every quarter’ feel at home.”
To create this support, Andover is instituting a five-week ACE-9 program, which Ventre said will strengthen incoming students’ academic skills in reading, writing and mathematics.
“We’re going to try to bring them to the school for summer session and work with them in a way which enhances their ability to take more advantage of the curriculum. You can’t repair everything in a five-week period, but what we can do is give them more of a runway and a roadmap of what’s ahead,” said Ventre. “All of the students who are admitted to this school are fully capable. Some just need a longer runway to really appreciate where they are and the opportunities that are up ahead of them.”
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Despite his initial struggles, Ogando credits Andover for creating a support group that helped him realized his potential.
Ogando, Gutierrez and Young found mentors through the Af-Lat-Am Mentoring Program (AMP), which pairs Black or Latino underclassmen with upperclassmen mentors.
“What AMP does is offer an older, more experienced student who can help guide [younger students] through their time here and hopefully beyond Andover. I still talk to my mentor every now and then. It’s important to have someone tell their experiences, give you a nudge to go to conference period or to just help you find yourself,” said Young.
Young found mentors not only in upperclassmen and other Financial Aid students, but also in faculty members who have provided inspiration.
“My first week of school [I went] down to instructional squash when Mr. Hodgson, the instructor, told me that he was a financial aid student at his own school and that it had opened him to many opportunities. Little anecdotes like that have helped me, and I am sure they have helped other students realize that we are not the only ones and that there is more in the future,” Young said.
They also found the Andover community extremely accepting of their personalities and experiences. “If you acted [differently in Hightstown], people looked at you weird. Hightstown High School wasn’t as accepting as Andover. Kids from one race would make fun of another and vice versa,” said Gutierrez.
Ogando added, “I was very ignorant when I first came to Andover. I had stereotypes of my own coming into this place… What [Andover teaches] is how to put those initial judgments aside and then do an experimental one where you actually get to know the person or thing in better detail.”
Ogando has experienced a form of “code switching,” or alternating between two language varieties, at Andover. While the community accepts him for who he is, Ogando finds himself speaking differently at Andover than he would in the Bronx.
“The truth is: I’m from the hood, born and raised. I was still in my Bronx mentality going to Andover and it took me a while, but eventually I learned to tone it down and get with the Andover lingo per se,” said Ogando.
Ogando has transitioned to wearing khakis and front-facing hats, a far cry from the pink shorts and backward snapbacks of his Junior year. “Honestly my choice of clothing has changed as well too. I wear khakis now which really wasn’t a thing back when I was home,” said Ogando.
Whenever Young stresses over a hard test or ponders his difficulties at Andover, he thinks about this education that many parents yearn to give their children. While Andover has provided Young with a great education and made him a leader in his community, he finds himself on different levels socially and intellectually with his old friends.
“My problems don’t really compare to some of those back home. I only have about eight friends that I hang out with when I am home, and still some of my relationships with them are dwindling because of the class and cultural differences between us all,” says Young.