In my last post I wrote about seven students who withdrew from school, and speculated that each case would have different specific reasons for dropping out, but that they’d share the same ultimate reason, poverty . Looking back, that’s not much of a prediction. Poverty is basically our demographic target.

However, I have found some less obvious similarities among the students, as well as, perhaps, a difference. I’ll focus on two of them. They appear to have a lot in common.

They’re both 18 years old, and are the oldest male children of single mothers. This year, one began 8th grade and the other 10th grade, which means they’re both at least two years older than the “appropriate age” for their grade. I put “appropriate age” in quotes because so many Guatemalan students are older than the theoretical age for their grade that it’s a slippery statistic, though not a meaningless one. There’s a clear, statistical link between being two years older than age appropriate and the likelihood of dropping out of school.

We’ve also found — in everyday observation and in statistical analysis — that the oldest male child is at high risk for not completing his education. When a family is struggling to put food on the table, everyone who can is expected to work, and the eldest male has the most earning potential.

Each of them has a social worker who has tried to help find options, such as enrolling in a weekend-only school as a way to continuing one’s education while contributing financially to the family, and both are faced with a difficult decision.

Here their stories start to diverge. The young mechanic decided that working full time was his best option, and is ending his affiliation. The other, who had enrolled in an accounting/bookkeeping program for reasons more bureaucratic than because he was actually interested in that career, may yet continue his education. He’s expressed interest in studying dental hygiene, so his affiliation is still active, but conditional. If he puts forth a plan of study for next year, his affiliation will continue, if not, it will end.

As the eldest males in families with real need, considering all the pressures and expectations that it carries, it seems cavalier to simply say they have opportunities, they have a choice, they can make their decision.

Yet in the end, that’s what has to happen.

For those of us born into more forgiving circumstances, it’s not easy to see how limited are other’s possibilities. We can’t control all the variables or outcomes. But we can create more opportunities for those who have few. One young man has made his decision; I’m waiting to see what happens with the other.

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