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Year 1 at ECHS: Blueprint for the Future

March 11, 2011 Leave a comment

By Rebecca Gigi

“If you were to ask anybody what was special about El Camino, it was that they were innovators,” says Robert Keropian, the first principal of El Camino. Built on land that was once a duck farm in 1961, Keropian and community members built the school from the ground up and helped make El Camino known worldwide as one of the top schools in the nation at the time.

In order to lessen the overcrowding at South San Francisco High School with 2,200 students and double session shifts at 7:30 then at 10:30 a.m. “Camino Real”, the school’s original name, was built to accommodate 1,500 students. From the steel framework to picking the mascot, Keropian had a say in what El Camino was going to be like from the very start. He looked to community members and parents and asked what they wanted from their new school.

Twice a week for the first year, Keropian met with parents for coffee and tea where they helped develop  rules, philosophy, and curriculum. Structure, safety and athletics were some of the top priorities for parents but one thing that kept coming up is that should El Camino become known for its unique take on education.

Keropian met with business leaders and the South San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and invited them to become associate faculty members who taught in classrooms and vocational counseling for students. Students were regularly treated with “master-classes” from experts in numerous job areas, something quite unique for that time.

Keropian set out on a mission to find the best teachers in the country to help teach his future students. Flying to Arizona one week and Washington the next, Keropian recruited a brand new faculty, looking for those who would, “care more about their students than the subject they were teaching.” Keropian recruited people like Tom McCormick, former Green Bay Packers coach for the as head football coach, the world’s decathlon champion as a history teacher, and a high jump champion in the business department. When selecting his first faculty Keropian admits, “My opportunity [as principal] was different; I didn’t inherit any faculty, so I had an unfair advantage.”

In rare weather, it snowed on the first day El Camino opened in 1962. In addition, students from South City took ducks from the nearby cemetery and set them loose in El Camino’s pool in reference to El Camino’s history of being a duck farm. Not everything was there waiting for the first class of incoming ninth and tenth graders; El Camino was not the school we know today. The school was built in two phases. During the first year, only the cafeteria, academic building, science building, main office, and the locker rooms were finished. The next year, students were able to use the gym, industrial arts building, and Little Theater as they were completed.

The Little Theater was intended to be a particularly special element of the school. The initial plan for the theater was for it to be a circular shape with a rotating stage and small intimate setting of about 500 seats, unlike South City’s 1,500 seat theater. The theater was also intended to be available for the city to use for other events. But when the bids came in for the unique theater, they were too high for the existing budget, so Keropian was forced to downsize, resulting in the theater that exists today.

“We didn’t want El Camino to be like other schools. We wanted to be different with a lot of innovations,” Keropian said.

El Camino received national recognition in its opening years and faculty from schools from all over the world wanted to see what the fuss was about at El Camino. Professors from places like Moscow and Germany visited for one year to experience the high spirited atmosphere and teaching at EC while attending seminars Keropian created for them. With the publicity also came heavy criticism especially towards Keropian’s more controversial methods. Being sued for the school dress code and lobbying to change laws in Sacramento so students could go on trips around the world were just some of the hardships Keropian overcame.

“I told the Superintendent and School Board, ‘Let me coach my own team at El Camino, and if you don’t like me get rid of me,” Keropian said.

For 30 years, Keropian was principal, leading the school to school spirit awards, a 99 percent graduation rate, and groundbreaking two-hour lab classes, El Camino set the standard high for other schools to follow for many years to come.

“It makes so much sense that we’re all in the huddle at El Camino and that we’re doing this together in the end,” Keropian said.

Breaking the Bank: Student finances at El Camino

March 11, 2011 Leave a comment

By Catherine Tadina

It is said that “money makes the world go round.” If so, then how does money make El Camino students’ worlds go round? Where does students’ money come from and what is it spent on? To answer these  questions, the Colt Quarterly staff conducted a school-wide survey of 836 El Camino students detailing their money sources and spending habits.

Money Sources
Let’s face it; everyone’s all guilty of asking for money from their parents. But should parents be students’ primary source of funds? The survey results show that students’ greatest source of money comes from their parents; an average of 37 percent of students’ money is given to them freely without requiring repayment to parents. The next greatest source of money comes as gifts given by relatives, with an average of 19 percent. Seniors get an average of 17 percent of their money from jobs—higher than any other grade level; lowerclassmen only get an average of six or seven percent of money from jobs.

It seems that the major sources from which students get their money has changed over the years. “When I was younger, my parents made me work for what I wanted,” economics teacher Joel Compton said. Learning the value of money caused Compton to think twice about his purchases.

Compared to earlier generations where teens usually had to work for their money, over the years more and more students have been receiving their money freely from their parents. What could possibly account for this change? Why is it that most kids don’t work, but are merely given their money as opposed to working for it?

This trend can be attributed to increased competition in high school. As the chances of getting into college are getting harder and harder, more and more students are focusing more on academics and less on work. Students are taking more and more AP and Honors classes, joining clubs, and participating in athletics as well as volunteering after school. Students are simply too busy to work when their hours are filled with studying, homework, and participating in activities that will give them an edge in college applications.

“[My parents] want me to focus on school first,” senior Reginne Ang said. “If I start working then I might get sidetracked because of all the money I’m earning.”

Another possibility, according to Compton, is a change in parents’ mentality. He hypothesizes that many parents have changed their outlook over the years, becoming more lenient—or “doting” on the younger generations.

While freely giving teens money may be convenient for students, it may hurt them in the long run. When students receive money without working for it, they may not understand its value and may thus take it for granted. This causes them to be unprepared when dealing with finances in the adult world. “When you give something for nothing, it’s like welfare at an early age,” Compton says.

Spending Habits
Not surprisingly, students spend the majority of the money they receive on entertainment, including movies, video games, music, and books. On average, students spend $140.07 a month on entertainment, which is 85 percent of the money they get per month.
It is also interesting to note that males and females spend their money differently. Females spend more money than males on clothes with 25 percent for girls versus 16 percent for boys, grooming expenses at seven percent for girls versus three percent for boys, and school supplies at five percent for girls versus two percent for boys. On the other hand, males spend more money than females on food with 19 percent versus 13 percent, entertainment at 34 percent versus 30 percent, and transportation at six percent versus five percent. Male students typically spend their money on video games, eating out, transportation-related expenses including their own cars, and electronics, whereas girls tend to spend more on beauty products and clothes.

In total, male students spend more money a month than female students. According to the survey, male students spend an average of $192.85 a month whereas females spend an average of $76.30 a month—a 40 percent difference.

Out of 628 responders from the 836 surveyed, 26 percent used credit cards or debit cards. “It’s a bad call for parents to give their kids credit cards,” Compton said. “It’s easy to spend for credit when you haven’t earned it.” If students consider about the work it took to earn the money they’re spending, they might make wiser decisions when it comes to spending money.

Although El Camino’s economics curriculum focuses little on lessons in teaching students practical lessons in managing their finances, several El Camino teachers teaching economics classes are planning to include more lessons on financial literacy in their curriculum. Compton stresses the importance of training kids in financial literacy at an early age. He feels that his parents had prepared him better for managing finances as an adult by making him work for his money as a kid, compared to his younger sister who readily received money from her parents much like the majority of El Camino students, and according to Compton, “had to learn the hard way” in the future.

El Camino’s Workforce
El Camino students who currently have or have had jobs in the past are generally employed in the retail sector. The next dominant industry in which students work are family businesses, followed by the food service industry. A low percent of students earn their money through babysitting. Students with jobs earned an average of $11.99 an hour—60 percent more than California’s current minimum wage of $8.00.

The higher the students’ economic class, the lower their work hours. Among the students who classified their socioeconomic statuses, students from low-income households worked for significantly more hours (16 hours on average) than did students from upper-income households (six hours on average). In correlation, El Camino students who qualified for free or reduced lunch (55 percent) worked 17 hours on average as opposed to students who did not qualify for free lunch (26 percent) who worked 15 hours on average. Students from lower-income households have a bigger need to work for money whereas students from upper-income households usually work to supplement their funding.

Surprisingly—and disconcertingly—the gender gap concerning earnings doesn’t just exist for adults. Female students earn an average of $9.91 an hour, whereas male students earn an average of $14.21 an hour. Female students earn 70 percent of what male students earn, or 70 cents for every dollar that male students earn. This percentage correlates with what statistics indicate: according to the US Census Bureau in 2004, women earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earn.
There are several possibilities that might contribute to this disparity: four percent of El Camino’s workforce—all male—have indicated that they work in the construction industry, where pay is higher and where women may be less inclined to apply and get hired for jobs—clearly indicating to the gap. Other possibilities are that female students make less than men because they are less assertive about asking for raises, or have less chances of being hired for higher paying jobs due to the gender discrimination that still exists in society. “It’s a shame,” Compton said. “But I think there’s still a [sexist] attitude out there.”

In addition, today’s stagnant economy has made it more and more difficult for high school students to find jobs. Jobs that high school students used to have are now being taken by college students and other adults who, in turn, cannot find jobs or have lost their jobs due to the recent economic downturn.

“[Most work places] don’t want teens,” El Camino Work Experience Coordinator Skip Del Sarto explains. “I guess to them, teens are not as reliable.”

Senior Michelle Coronado has been looking for jobs since the end of her sophomore year, but to no avail. “I’ve applied almost everywhere,” Coronado said. “I feel I had really good qualities and for them to reject me makes me feel discouraged … If I can’t find a job as a teen, how about as an adult?” She also believes that race discrimination also plays a factor in her difficulty in finding work.

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South San Francisco responds to recent violence

March 11, 2011 Leave a comment
By RJ Refuerzo
Increasing violence and homicides have been a problem for South San Francisco citizens in recent years, but the grotesque 2010 statistics have the city taking a more active role in the struggle to curb violence. Public meetings have been called to consider the rise in homicides and other crimes in the past few months and to improve public relations between police officers and civilians.

San Mateo County recorded 20 homicides in 2010, not including vehicular manslaughter or other means deemed justified by peace officers. This number has steadily risen since 2009, in which 14 homicides occurred. From 2000 to 2006, the number escalated from 10 in 2000 to 33 in both 2004 and 2005 before dropping to 23 in 2006. It stayed below 20 until the triple homicide in December.

Campus Security Officer Laura Janero said that the gang problem had been anticipated to travel down the peninsula, according to law enforcement. “From being in the business for 22 years, I honestly believe that there’s really no one to blame; it’s just the way things are going,” Janero said. “The sudden surge of violence is a concern and we all want to pitch in as a community and give all the information we know to law enforcement and to anybody else who needs our help.”

Three Linden Avenue homicides on December 22 have brought about new concern, and in response the City Council proposed and later passed a $400,000 program to hire four additional officers to promote synchronization between the force and the neighborhood and add a second police officer as a school liaison. The Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center has been working in conjunction with the San Mateo County community to figure out the best way to meet the needs, according to the PCRC Associate Director Michelle Vilchez. The committee came into play by coordinating with South San Francisco High School after 15-year-old Jose Lopez Manuel was killed in a drive-by shooting earlier in May of 2010.

Janero hopes that the $400,000 grant will work, and aims to follow up in any way she can at El Camino. “Get all the right people to say they’re going to do what they need to do, and it should work,” Janero said. “Everybody in the community has to get in there and make it work. And we’ve got good students that I’ve seen in the years that help us in security turn those kids around too. We can do it; we just need as many people as possible to do it.”

 

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Staying on track with Senior Project

March 11, 2011 Leave a comment

By Rebecca Gigi

As the start of second semester rolls around, many seniors are feeling the pressure when it comes to beginning their Senior Projects. Senior Project is a “community minded learning experience designed to stretch a student personally, socially, and intellectually, and challenge them in a way they haven’t been challenged before.”

With all the deadlines for important documents needed to complete the project, seniors may feel the stress in trying to keep up with it all.

“Trying to get the paperwork signed can be very difficult because there are a lot of papers to keep track of and tryin to get a hold of mentors by the specific dates,” senior Amanda Cotla said.

As of right now, seniors should have their topic selected with their teacher’s approval, the Mentor Agreement form, Parent Permission Letter, and Plagiarism form signed as well as having their Proposal Letter and first draft of their paper completed. The total of 30 hours (15 with a mentor and 15 doing community service related to their topic) should be well on their way.

Teachers suggest that whenever students have the slightest question, one should ask immediately to avoid leaving out any details or paper work needed in the future.

Newly introduced this year to students was the need to create a blog online to record their experiences while working with their mentor and community service. The blog will be a part of the portfolio that contains everything students should have recorded during their project that both teachers and panelists will be looking at during presentations in June.

Overall, students need to remember that Senior Project is helping them prepare for life after high school and it’s challenges, as well as helping with communication skills, finding jobs, etc.

“I feel like it’s a good project to help students become more independent when they leave high school and are on their own,” Cotla said.

 

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Superintendent Cohen resigns

March 11, 2011 Leave a comment

By Catherine Tadina

Dr. Howard Cohen officially resigned as superintendent of the South San Francisco Unified School District December 17, 2010 amid allegations of questionable hiring practices. Associate Superintendent Adolfo Melara has temporarily assumed Cohen’s duties for the remainder of the 2010-11 school year.

Cohen’s attempt to hire interim Assistant Superintendent Vince Kilmartin as the interim bond liaison to manage the $162-million Measure J bond at the November 18 board meeting resulted in a disagreement between Cohen and the Board of Trustees. The board deemed this hire as an unethical use of district money. After the fallout at the November 18 school board meeting, Cohen filed an unexpected leave of absence December 6.

Kilmartin once worked with Cohen in West Conta Costra County Unified School District, and later at the at the Waterford Unified School District, where Cohen had hired Kilmartin’s educational firm Total School Solutions to manage the district’s master plan. In Waterford, Cohen was accused of mismanaging district finances, hiring unnecessary TSS staff and costing the school board $124,000 instead of the initial $33,000 intended for “polishing the school’s district plan. Cohen had also initiated pay increases of 5.2 percent, including a raise for himself, five months before the school board approved them.

As Cohen signed a three-year contract with the South San Francisco Unified School District, the district is bound under contract to pay Cohen with his full salary of $171,289 and benefits—while he is on administrative leave—until his term expires on June 30, 2011.

Science teacher Sanjay Makhijani was “extremely shocked” at the fact that Cohen is being paid the full salary and has been critical of the board’s decision in signing Cohen with the three-year contract.

“[Cohen’s salary] could have paid the salary of two teachers for the year,” Makhijani said. “Yet, we had layoffs of two valuable teachers”

Upon moving to the South San Francisco Unified School District, Cohen had attempted the same practices. In addition to attempting to hire Kilmartin from TSS, Cohen pushed for administrative salary increases at a time when the district was forced to lay off teachers, reduce programs, and school budgets.

The School Board is currently in the process of searching for, interviewing and eventually hiring Cohen’s replacement. As of February 28 the board is actively looking two possible candidates, Melara and former SSFUSD Superintendent George Kozitza.

 

The expense of Senior Ball

March 11, 2011 Leave a comment

By Marivic Victoria

On May 1, 2011 the Senior Class will be holding their Senior Ball at the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Due to the cost of such a high class venue, the Senior Class is still in need of fundraising to pay for the event.

The cost of holding Senior Ball at the Academy of Sciences is approximately $40,000. To raise the funds, the Senior Officers have put on fundraisers throughout the year in order to reduce bid expenses. “Senior sweaters and homecoming t-shirt sales brought in majority of the profit,” Senior Class President Charlene De Castro said. Another large sum has come from snack boxes and selling food and drinks like nachos and Eggettes after school.

To date, the Senior Class has been able to raise most of the money but still has around $2000 left. “Of course we’re trying to exceed that goal so bids will be even cheaper, but that’s only possible with some help from our class,” Senior Class Secretary Matthew Tan said.

To meet the May deadline, the senior officers have set up a few more fundraisers in order to reduce bid prices, such as the annual Rent-A-Senior on held on February 16. Students had the opportunity to bid on seniors who put themselves up for auction with the proceeds directly to that senior’s ball bid.

Seniors have also sold different types of deserts from Gateway Company in the hopes of paying off the last of the expenses. There are delicate delights such as Moca Cake, Lava-Licious Hot Fudge Cakes, and Brown Poppers.

Tan felt strongly in “doing it big” for the Senior Class and that they deserve that much.

Another fundraiser being held will be a Bingo Night on March 29 in El Camino’s cafeteria. Each ticket will be $40 and only for eighteen year olds and up. Each sold ticket from a senior will knock off $15 from their ball bid.

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Filling out the FAFSA with ease

March 11, 2011 Leave a comment

By Christen Alqueza

FAFSA Night, an evening assembly put together by El Camino’s Counseling Department, was held on Tuesday, January 11 in the Little Theatre. Financial aid guru Paul Wrubel from Palo Alto guided college-bound seniors and their parents through each step of filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Despite the lack of publicity of FAFSA Night, the Little Theatre filled up quickly with a crowd of about 125 students and parents, while 30 Spanish-speaking families met in the library for the Spanish presentation by experts from Skyline.

All eager to learn how to cut today’s escalating college costs, families were told about the impact of the burden of tuition on the working class, briefed on how the federal government uses the information from FAFSA to determine how much to grant each family, then guided step-by-step on how to fill it out.

On stage, Dr. Paul Wrubel — a former high-school administrator and expert on college funding with a Stanford PhD — lightened the mood by relating to the audience’s disdain for the filing process as he went on about the relatively droll subject, jokingly calling it a “stupid process.”

Wrubel has been coming to El Camino annually for FAFSA Night on his mission to universalize access to post-secondary school. He’s written hundreds of articles on the subject and was even featured on talk shows to spread his wisdom.

His tips included avoiding scam sites like fafsa.com, which actually charges applicants, and to file the FAFSA as soon as possible, since grants are given on a first-come, first-served basis. He also revealed several common misconceptions about financial aid, such as the belief that one will save money by living off campus, which is not necessarily true: If one indicates on the FAFSA that he/she is planning to live on-campus, the government will recognize that as more need for aid, and they may bestow them with even more money. Another myth that families often accept as true is that a family’s income is too high to get anything out of filing the FAFSA.

Wrubel cleared the haze on the subject, clarifying that everyone who files for it will receive some offer from the government, even if it is in the form of a loan.

“He gave us useful information, like to just put the money you have left after paying all your bills away and how to get as much financial aid as possible,” senior Chloe Cruz said.

Families should go to tuitioncoach.com, a site which Wrubel himself co-founded, to find more tips on paying for tuition.

Although it is already months into the 18-month filing period, potential applicants have nothing to lose.

 

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