Archive for the ‘Feature’ Category

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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Once a Colt, always a Colt: The story of Robert Turnberg as a former student at El Camino

December 10, 2010 Leave a comment

By Catherine Tadina

Robert Turnberg as a student.

Robert Turnberg’s love for El Camino certainly shows with his loyalty and dedication to the school spanning decades. His experience with El Camino spans several decades: he first attended as a student in the 1960s, eventually became a teacher in 1981, and even after retiring in 2005 he still loves to work to this day at El Camino as a substitute teacher. Indeed, Turnberg has become an enduring mainstay at El Camino.

Turnberg’s first job as a teacher was at Alta Loma Middle School in 1971. However, in 1981, the ninth grade level was eventually moved from middle school to high school, generating vacant spots for teaching at El Camino. To Turnberg, this was an opportunity that was too good to pass up. “It had always been my dream to return to El Camino,” Turnberg says.

Turnberg always wanted to come back to El Camino because he always felt very close to the school. Things that keep him coming back to El Camino are the sense of community, the school spirit, good classes and the teachers who care—which, according to him, have always persisted in the school.

In Turnberg’s first year, homecoming rallies were held in the courtyard as the gym was still being built. Floats and cars were also used during homecoming.

Turnberg as a teacher at El Camino, circa 1980s.

Upon hearing the news that John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, Turnberg remembers the whole school fall silent. “Everything was quiet, and the only sounds heard were girls crying. It was a very emotional moment,” Turnberg said. “It still gets me today; when I once substituted Ms. Vosberg’s class, where the students watched a film about JFK’s assassination, I found myself tearing up a bit.”

During Turnberg’s time, the Bell Games used to be held at night, which usually resulted in fights breaking out between the opposing schools. This was the reason why the Bell Games were changed to day games instead, as fights were easier to control.

As a true testament to Turnberg’s love for El Camino, Turnberg has three shelves full of yearbooks, ranging from his years as a student, to his years as a teacher at El Camino. Except for one missing year—which was his sophomore year—his collection would otherwise be complete. He says he still searches the eBay pages every now and then to see if he can find old copies of the yearbook.

Categories: Feature

Once a Colt, always a Colt: The story of Derek Padilla as a former student at El Camino

December 10, 2010 Leave a comment

By Catherine Tadina

Leadership and English teacher Derek Padilla as a student.

A principal hugged him and almost knocked him over when Leadership and English teacher Derek Padilla mentioned in a speech he made during Honors Graduation night IN 1997 that he always wanted to be a teacher. As a student, Padilla dedicated so much of his time and energy to the school, people knew that his heart was always set on coming back to El Camino.


Padilla transferred to El Camino during his sophomore year because he wanted to get away from all the violence that was rampant at Seaside High School near Monterey. In his freshman year alone, fights broke all the time, two girls were raped, and his lab partner was knocked down in a drive-by. However, violence did not just stay at school, but also spread to people’s houses. Fearing for his safety, he wanted to start over at El Camino.

The way Padilla had first entered El Camino was a unique one; he joined the El Camino JV Football Team the summer before his sophomore year, and he had continued playing all the way to playing for the varsity team his senior year. He says he is still friends with first person he had met in his first period class.

Back then, honors and AP classes were a lot harder to get into. “You had to fight to get into AP,” Padilla said. There also was an AP Chemistry during that time, but there was only one class period per honors or AP subject. According to Padilla, there were seven valedictorians the year after he graduated. Schedules were also slightly different: people had their lunch period at different times, depending on their classes; some students took their lunch after third period, while some took theirs after fourth. This was the main reason why Homecoming skits were performed in the morning and why club meetings were usually held in the morning and after school. Any lunch skits usually had to be performed twice.

Padilla’s Junior Class Homecoming all-nighter on October 17, 1989 was the night the 6.9-magnitude Loma Prieta Earthquake had occurred. The incident fostered a sense of closeness among the students; instead of doing the all-nighter, they all tried to find one another and tried to make sure everyone and their families were okay.

Padilla as a teacher at El Camino.

Padilla’s senior Bell Game experience ended with a bang—literally. Several minutes before the first half of the game was over, while Padilla was in the middle of South San Francisco High School’s football field, he heard a big, loud bang. He remembers turning back to the source of the explosion and seeing a gigantic hole in the scoreboard. A pipe bomb had exploded in Clifford Field during the Bell Game! Luckily, there were no injuries. No evacuation was implemented; they simply had cleaned up the debris and resumed the game as usual. In the end, the culprit of the pipe bombing was never found.

El Camino dances were very popular during Padilla’s time. “Everyone goes to El Camino dances,” Padilla said. “That’s what we’re known for.” About 700 to 800 people came to El Camino’s school dances, with one-third being guests from other schools. Private school students sometimes came to the dances to meet girls, much to the chagrin of El Camino boys.

Socially, Padilla, who was class president his senior year, saw himself as a little bit of an outsider. While he took honors classes, he was not part of the honors clique; the honors kids were already familiar with one another, having formed relationships during freshman year, whereas he had only transferred in his sophomore year. Although he played football, he was not a typical jock, being the only football player on the team taking honors classes.  He also listened to rock music. “I was a guy who did his own things … I didn’t associate myself with stereotypes. I tried different things,” Padilla said.

Padilla’s family history at El Camino spans many years, even as far back as 1972. “There’s always someone from my family at this school.” His siblings, his cousins, and his cousin’s children all went to El Camino. However, this is not uncommon for many students in El Camino. As a teacher, Padilla always sees family names repeatedly among different generations. “You can trace back [a student’s] family history [at El Camino.] It gives El Camino a small town feel.”

Padilla administrates the El Camino’s 50th Anniversary Facebook page, where El Camino alumni can get in touch with each other in celebration of El Camino’s golden year. School pride is still evident with El Camino alumni, as can be shown by the comments this Facebook page gets, with classes from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s arguing which class is the best. Padilla is pleased to see that this kind of school pride still continues to exist, not only with the alumni but in current El Camino students as well. “When you walk to the mall, you’ll see mostly EC sweatshirts,” Padilla said.

Categories: Feature

Once a Colt, always a Colt: The story of Jolene Jordan as a former student at El Camino

December 10, 2010 Leave a comment

By Catherine Tadina

Science teacher Jolene Jordan as a student.

Science teacher Jolene Jordan attended El Camino starting as a tenth grader, since ninth grade moved to the middle schools at the time. Jordan was already native to El Camino by the time she transitioned to high school. “El Camino was my backyard,” Jordan said. “I played at school during the weekends.”

Jordan recalls with a laugh that she and her friends used to sit on the railings of the stairs by the blacktop and slide down the railings. Jordan is filled with enthusiasm as she recounts moments she spent with her friends, such as finding beetle bugs around school and naming them “John,” “Paul,” “Ringo,” and “George,” building forts on the overhang between the hill and the front of the big gym, or riding bikes down the hill beside McLellan street.

Jordan at present.

As a dare, Jordan and her friends even walked on top of the concrete wall by the swimming pool and the tennis courts. “We all dared each other to scale that huge concrete wall,” Jordan said. “It seemed scary because looked so tall, so high at the time that we considered it a feat to be able to climb on top and walk like you’re on a tightrope.”

The positive change Jordan has seen over the years is the increasing diversity of the students. When Jordan was a student, the student population was mostly Caucasian and Latino. Now, the student body is much more diverse. Jordan also remarks that the cliques were a lot more obvious during the seventies than today. “I think that I didn’t feel a sense of community as a student than what I am observing in students now,” Jordan says. “There’s a lot more respect among today’s students, especially with people they don’t know.”

Categories: Feature

Once a Colt, always a Colt: The story of Jeff Cosico as a former student at El Camino

December 10, 2010 Leave a comment

By Catherine Tadina

Physical Education teacher Jeff Cosico as a student.

Physical Education teacher Jeff Cosico’s first impression of El Camino was a sense of overwhelm. Compared to Alta Loma Middle School during his seventh and eighth grade years, El Camino had a bigger student body as well as a size difference between the freshmen as compared to the seniors.

According to Cosico, back in the 90s, El Camino always had a very diverse student population as today. Although they had different “cliques” that hung out with one another, everyone respected each others’ differences. Academics were always a focal point of El Camino. “We ranked very high compared to the other high schools in the county,” he said.
One aspect of El Camino that has always persisted is the school spirit. “Just like today, El Camino students take pride in their school,” he said.

Cosico’s favorite El Camino tradition is Homecoming Week.  “Starting with the class skits, the rally, followed by the homecoming game, the school spirit is at its peek during this time of year,” he said.

While going through college, Cosico served as after school coach for both the frosh/soph and varsity football teams.  Cosico decided to come back to teach at El Camino because of what he has experienced as a student during the early ‘90s. “I’ve always wanted to work with kids after I finished high school,” Cosico said. “I’ve always had a connection with this school even after I graduated.”

Cosico said he felt very nostalgic upon coming back to El Camino after several years. “It brought back memories of when I was a student here at El Camino,” Cosico said. “I feel very fortunate to work at such a good school.  We have respectable students and a very supportive staff.  El Camino is a great school for both students and staff alike.”

“I’m very honored to be working [with] some staff members that were here back in the early 90s …[I’m very honored to be working with] teachers such as Mr. Arias, Mr. Cresta, Mrs. Jordan, Mr. Simondi, and Mrs. Webb,” Cosico said. “They were excellent teachers then, and they’re even better teachers now.”

Categories: Feature

Once a Colt, always a Colt: The story of Shannon Allen as a former student at El Camino

December 10, 2010 Leave a comment

By Catherine Tadina

Allen as a student.

While El Camino in the 1990s was physically very similar to that of the present, the surrounding areas were quite different; El Camino in the ‘90s had a rural atmosphere. “It was kind of like the Wild West,” English teacher Shannon Allen said. In order to go to school every morning, Allen remembers having to walk through a “scary path” across what is now the track field. The areas surrounding El Camino were grass fields: there was no South San Francisco BART, Starbucks, or Costco. The area where the nearest Trader Joe’s is currently located was once full of trees. “It was shady,” Allen said. “There was not a lot of adult supervision in the surroundings back then.”

The issue of building South San Francisco BART in 1997 was a source of contention among students. While South San Francisco BART was being built, many El Camino students protested, arguing the safety of making El Camino too accessible.

The Columbine School Massacre on April 20, 1999 had a profound effect on El Camino students. Allen recalls hearing the news in English teacher Thomas Crockett’s senior AP English class.

Allen at present.

“Everyone was in shock,” Allen said. “While there were school shootings before, they were fairly small; this was the first time a big scale school shooting—a mass murder—had occurred.” People all over the country blamed rock music as the driving force behind the Columbine high school shooters. Since Allen listened to rock music, there was some scrutiny put on students like Allen and her friends. To dispel suspicions, Allen organized a peace march, wherein about 30-40 students, as well as Crockett, walked to the South San Francisco City Hall. There, they passed candles and discussed what it meant to be peaceful.

Gangs were also more prominent at the time. While the gangs never bothered Allen, she had a Latino friend who was assaulted by a rival gang. “You really had to watch yourself back then,” Allen said.