Levittown at School: Life and Debt in a Gloomy Economy
by Adam Blenford
student debt has reached $1tn, and interest on college loan repayments
is scheduled to double on 1 July unless Congress acts. In the latest
of our series on Levittown, Pennsylvania, we look at how today's
students are facing challenges older generations never did.
Hoffman was eight years old, she was Levittown's future.
live in the sparkling new town by her parents, the young girl marvelled
at the sight of grass, at the open spaces, at the fresh air.
an ambitious girl with ambitious parents. They saw Levittown, founded
in 1952 just months before their daughter was born, as a path out
of hard-scrabble Philadelphia.
One of her
earliest memories was the spine-tingling day when then-Senator John
F Kennedy put Levittown on the map in 1960 with a presidential campaign
stop in the town shopping centre.
was that you could do anything you wanted to do," she recalls
today. "Your children could do anything they wanted. They could
surpass their wildest dreams."
did just that. From little Levittown, Pennsylvania, she took her
inquiring mind to a succession of ever-grander seats of learning:
Long Island University, NYU, the University of Madrid.
Yet she never
forgot Levittown, and when she finished her studies she returned
home, she became Eileen Shine.
to her true alma mater, her high school, dedicating her career to
improving the chances of those who came after her.
other responsibilities Mrs Shine manages Harry S Truman High School's
roster of elite examination candidates.
students are capable of tackling four-year courses at universities
that charge as much as $50,000 (£30,820) per year.
the list, she points to the names marked in red. Every one about
half the list qualifies for free school meals. In US education,
that is shorthand for poor.
It is one of
the starkest differences with the Levittown of years gone by, says
Palmer Toto, the school's head of guidance.
once worked to save for a college fund, today they work to pay the
mortgage. There is little or nothing left over.
halls of Truman High are as much of a throwback to the era of the
American Dream as is the name of the school.
There is a
football stadium, a baseball diamond and an 800-seat theatre. The
senior prom is coming up this month.
are also plenty of students who seem infused with the same ambition
that drove a young Eileen Hoffman.
could be certain that her parents' endeavour would set her up to
achieve her goals, there is less certainty for today's graduating
to be the first in my family to go to college," says Megan
Cannon, 17, who has secured financial assistance to study at Pennsylvania's
Megan works two jobs as well as studying for her high school diploma.
Her mother, who runs her home alone, also has two jobs as a bartender
and as a bus driver.
seen how my mom has lived and I want to have as much as I can,"
Megan says. "I want to make my mother proud."
Mr Toto, a
former English teacher who returned to Levittown's only high school
after 21 years in private business, says Megan's situation is very
typical of Levittown in 2012.
unit is disintegrating," he says. "And there is no money.
Our youngsters are having to choose community college whereas before
they chose a four-year degree."
yearly tuition cost in 2009-10 reached $12,804 at publicly funded
colleges and $32,184 at private institutions, according
to the US Department of Education.
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© 2012 BBC