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Make Me Smart with Kai and Molly

Episode 118: What's in a face?

Jun 18, 2019

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Six Routes

Left behind in Silicon Valley

David Weinberg Mar 31, 2015
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Christine Holst teaches geometry and pre-calculus at Pioneer High School in San Jose, CA. Lately, she has been worried about one of her students. Holst says he asked for advice because he’s overworked and stressed. 

“I just want my students to do the best that they can and make the best decisions for them and not comparing each other,” says Holst. “But then we live in this area where, how do we not compare? How do we not look at the house next to us compared to our own?”

You get the sense just being in Holst’s classroom that she has the ability to make pre-calculus fun. The walls are covered in homemade posters that are part inside joke, part math lesson.

“This is where I want to serve the community and what’s sad to me is I can’t serve my community and feel like I can live in my community. I feel like it has to be one or the other,” says Holst.

She and her husband, a sound engineer, have a young daughter; they make between seven and eight thousand dollars a month, but that’s not nearly enough to buy a home here.

“You need to earn about $140,000 a year to buy the median priced house. So homeownership is a real question in the future economy,” says Derecka Mehrens, executive director of Working Partnerships USA, a community labor organization just up the road from Pioneer High School. They recently issued a cost of living report on Silicon Valley. Data from the report showed that the vast majority of job growth was at the bottom.

“What we know is that for every tech job created there are four additional jobs in the regional economy created. What’s unknown or not talked about is what the quality of those other four jobs are and who gets those jobs,” says Mehrens.

Christine Holst genuinely loves her job but her salary isn’t enough to have the traditional middle class life that she expected. “I am very grateful to live in this area. I think it has a lot to offer, but there’s not a lot of peace here. I love my students but it’s just the pressures of this area to do well and to succeed that I find challenging,” says Holst. “So if everywhere were like the Silicon Valley it would make me sad.”

That’s an especially harsh reality for Holst who grew up in the valley. Her family is from here, and she would like to stay.

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