Principal Karl Krawitz has clearly been able to see the impact of the economy on the student population. Over his past three and a half years at East, he has witnessed the number of East students on free and reduced lunch grow from 1 to 10 percent.
“When you look at those numbers and that short period of time, going from really being negligible to 10 percent of your student population: something’s happening,” Dr. Krawitz said. “We’re seeing it from that perspective.”
Senior Brian Taylor* has been one of the students whose family has greatly felt the impact of the recession. Both of Taylor’s parents were daytime futures traders, involved in the stock market, but due to its negative downturn as well as local issues, they both found themselves without jobs. Taylor’s mother traveled abroad to look for work while his father continued to work on a long-time project, which should earn him a steady income from speaking engagements once finished. Even though most of the public’s attention has been on the events of 2008, Taylor says his family was first heavily affected when the housing bubble broke in 2005.
“It wasn’t long after this that we were thrown into a decaying situation involving a bad mortgage and plummeting property values,” Taylor said. “The ensuing recession pushed us deep into debt, and the eventual foreclosure of our home. We had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in order to dispel a large amount of debt.”
The mortgage the Taylors had on their house came about due to run-over costs from their newly built house. Along with the housing factors and other circumstantial issues, Taylor’s family had to leave their house and move into another. Along with the large amount of debt and dwindling income, Taylor said that his family had to start using food stamps, despite every effort of theirs to try and get by without them.
Taylor is not alone, many other students at East are also feeling the impact of the recession.
Krawitz has noted that there has been more use of East’s in-house fund, called the ‘Love Fund’. The Love Fund was started from donations given by families, with the intention of creating a fund that could help students and their families at East. The Love Fund can be used to help cover costs of school lunches, initial registration and class fees as well as summer school. One of the ways that the Love Fund generates donations is through the annual carnation fundraiser.
Social counselor Becky Wiseman assists with the Love Fund, working with students and families to access the resources made available to them by the organization. Additionally, she helps East families find charities and organizations that can provide further help outside of school.
Wiseman believes that community help can greatly impact an individual’s financial recovery, but in the end it is still a personal responsibility to pursue help.
“I think people struggle asking for help, I think that is something that people struggle to do,” Wiseman said. “But we all at some point are going to need some support or some resources at one way or another and then hopefully, if they can get through this time, they can be at a place where maybe they can offer advice or offer assistance to someone else.”
Wiseman has seen families of East students move into the houses of other families, because they were no longer able to afford to keep their house, legally defining them as ‘homeless’. Times like these are causing people to stretch their resources and push themselves to their limits.
“It’s not that hard actually to live life a little bit smaller,” Taylor said. “Just driving to school everyday I drive past Mission Hills and I look at these mansions all over the place and it’s like, ‘What do you do with that money, why do you really need all this?’”
When it comes to getting through troubling economic times, Wiseman says that surviving the experience is all about learning how to adapt.
“The truth is at the end of the day you have to work from where you’re at,” Wiseman said. “Changing your plans doesn’t mean ruining your plans, change isn’t necessarily always bad – it can really open up some amazing opportunities. It’s a different path and it’s OK that sometimes disappointment comes, and we deal with [it] and maybe have to go down a different path.”
Especially for students looking to go to college in the very near future, Wiseman believes someone can still have a great college experience, but it is important to put effort into searching out offers that are available to prospective students.
“Even though it may not be your first plan or what you had in place, it can still be really amazing and it can still support your future goals,” Wiseman said. “Talk with those colleges about what kind of scholarships or grants that are available.”
Students who make use of grants, scholarships and financial aid can also help alleviate some of the stress that their family is facing. Krawitz says that it is important for families to look for opportunities, especially when they are under financial pressure. This pressure, Krawitz explains, translates into stress that the whole family ends up feeling.
“When families are dealing with financial issues, such as what’s occurred with this economy, it puts a lot of stress on the family emotionally because parents certainly do not want to try and interrupt what’s happening in the lives of their kids,” Krawitz said. “So sometimes that means that the parents have to take on a little bit more hardship so that their kids don’t necessarily feel it — but kids do feel it.”
Taylor has felt the impact in more ways than one. Growing up amongst the whole difficult economic happenings, Taylor has seen himself and his outlook mature from the innocence that he once had.
“I lost a lot of, I guess you could say ‘childhood innocence,’” Taylor said. “I got pretty world-wise, and you learn a lot, like I’m never gonna be able to live a really opulent life ever, it’s been hammered into me now.”
The Taylor family’s financial situation is starting to stabilize, but is far from being back to normal. The entire troubled economic situation has shown Taylor that becoming comfortable with the status quo can prove to be dangerous, especially in the long run.
“The way that our culture is, we accept it as a norm, you just, you’re gonna take out a mortgage on your house, you’re going to have debt, “ Taylor said. “[Spending is] a bad, bad habit that we’ve grown up with.”
For families to be able to make it through financial difficulty intact, Krawitz believes that it’s all about having good motivation and being able to see the positive side of everything.
“Right now their life might be chaos, but we do know from studying natural systems that even anything that’s chaotic in the life of a person or an organization at some point returns to a sense of normalcy,” Krawitz said. “So if that’s the case, you have to be positive, you have to go out and you have to be willing to take on your circumstance and be willing to deal with it – and that means you have to persevere.”