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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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Categories: Feature Tags: , , , ,

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.

 

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.

Once a Colt, always a Colt: The story of Patty Vlahakos as a former student at El Camino

December 10, 2010 Leave a comment

By Catherine Tadina

Vlahakos as a student.

Counselor Patty Vlahakos had several family members attend El Camino before her arrival, giving her many opportunities to attend football games and dance shows. “I was always really excited about the level of school spirit that presented itself during these events,” Vlahakos says. “Students were always incredibly approachable and parents were always present at the events.”

According to Vlahakos, her most memorable moment in high school was her senior year homecoming, where she created a strong bond with her classmates. Participating in homecoming allowed her to create new friendships and made her feel as if she was a part of her graduating class. Her biggest regret was not participating in homecoming in the years prior. “After experiencing the excitement of homecoming in my senior year, I definitely regretted not participating earlier,” Vlahakos said.

All students at one point in their high school career were able to access other students outside of their typical “clique”. All of the students were open to socializing with many different types of students. “When I participated in our school musical productions, we had a very diverse group of students participate: there were athletes, dancers, cheerleaders, drama students, art students, et cetera. Were all involved in different aspects of the events,” Vlahakos said. There was definitely a sense of inclusion when such opportunities presented themselves.”

Vlahakos was born and raised in South San Francisco, and thus, she considers El Camino home. When she was given the opportunity to work at El Camino, she could not let the opportunity pass. She chose to work in education so that she could help reach out to all students and provide them with the support they need to reach their full potential. “What better way to give back to my community than to serve youth in such a rewarding way!” Vlahakos said.

Transitioning back to El Camino was easy for Vlahakos, as teachers, counselors, and staff members made her feel right at home. “It was refreshing to see that the school had maintained the positive vibe that I had recalled,” Vlahakos said. She had the honor of having some of the current teachers as her own – Social Studies teachers Richard Arias and Steve Simondi, English teacher Thomas Crockett, and Math teachers Megan Connery and Richard Finacom. “It has been a pleasure to work with them all,” Vlahakos said. “I know how powerful they all are in the classroom and it is always exciting to hear my students speak highly of them also.”

Vlahakos at present.

Students nowadays have more opportunities to enroll in rigorous courses than when Vlahakos was a student. The only decline she has seen is in the school’s elective department due to the budget cuts which have taken a toll on the school’s resources; when Vlahakos attended, they had classes such as accounting, metals, wood, home economics, and speech. Nevertheless, the presence and involvement of counselors has increased drastically, as well as the amount of Honors and AP classes, according to Vlahakos. Students now have numerous opportunities to seek out counseling resources, speak with college representatives, and attend “life after high school” presentations more regularly.

Vlahakos believes that over the years, El Camino has always maintained its spirit. “I think that our teachers, staff and students take pride in our school,” she said. To her, the most impressive thing about El Camino is how effective it is in maintaining a safe environment. “As a whole, we have been successful in allowing for our students to uphold their individuality,” Vlahakos said. El Camino has held strong in creating a second home for its students, teachers and staff.

Editorial – Governor Brown: Good for education

December 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Editorial

(Art Christen Alqueza)

The battle between Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman ended with Brown winning by a fair margin. Facing challenges with budget cuts and students’ underperformance in state standardized testing, a governor like Brown at the helm is a step forward for California. Brown’s policies are superior to Whitman’s in many ways: as opposed to the lacking business-like policies that Whitman would have tried to implement, Brown’s proposals are comprehensive and more personal, which shows his understanding of his community.

The budget cuts have caused a great hardship to the California school system. California’s reputation as a university research base is in danger. To mitigate this budget deficit, Brown intends to return funding from prisons to education as well as tighten the relationship between community colleges and the UC system, ensuring that the system can support itself.

The curriculum changes Brown proposes show his intuitiveness sense of community. Brown understands the merits in expanding technology in schools. Brown also acknowledges ESL learners, minorities, and low-income families to help kids with the most need.

Brown and Whitman agreed that the current funding system should be simplified. Brown will base the funding through a “pupil-weighted formula.” Whitman planned on instituting a system that grades public schools from ‘A’ to ‘F’. Moreover, Whitman places an emphasis on standardized test scores and supports giving merit pay to teachers whose students have high standardized test scores. There is something wrong with this belief: higher test scores don’t necessarily indicate higher performing students; the prospect of merit pay may encourage more teachers to cheat on such tests. Brown intends to broaden the students’ horizons in areas such as science, and history—not just math and English. Whitman had not addressed this issue at all in her educational policies.

Lastly, many intangible factors influence how well a school performs that it is unfair to base how much funding is allotted to a school over mere statistics. If Whitman won, she would have run schools like a business. Brown shows that he clearly cares about the students and recognizes their needs.

Although reforms in education may prove a challenging task for Brown due to the budget deficit, with his experience and his policies, the state of California’s education system will definitely be in better hands. While some aspects of Brown’s education reform policies are more ambitious, they are more tailored to the needs of the students, not money or figures—as would have been in Whitman’s case, had she been elected.

Categories: Opinion Tags: , , , ,

Brown elected California governor

December 3, 2010 Leave a comment

By Catherine Tadina

Democrat Jerry Brown defeated Republican Meg Whitman in the California gubernatorial election held Tuesday, November 2, 2010. Brown won 53.6 percent of the popular vote over Whitman’s 41.3 percent, a difference of approximately one million votes. This will be Brown’s third non-consecutive term, his last governorship running from 1978 to 1983. Brown will be replacing incumbent governor Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger on January 3, 2011.

Social studies teacher Steve Simondi said he is not surprised of Jerry Brown’s victory. “Mr. Jerry Brown is what I call a politician’s politician; he knows how to run the campaign,” Simondi said. “Meg Whitman lost for a number of reasons: one, she was a cold candidate; two, most Californians vote Democrat; three, in California we don’t seem to elect very wealthy people. Meg Whitman was inclined to buy the election; she spent $141 million of her own money.” Simondi also quipped that Whitman “looked like a female Benjamin Franklin.”

Funding of public secondary and postsecondary schools is a top priority for Brown with regards to his policies concerning education. Brown supported the defeated Proposition 98 from last 2008, which proposed the allotment of 40 percent of state spending to public schools and colleges.

One of Brown’s policies that will most likely affect high schools in South San Francisco is the changing of school funding formulas. The current, somewhat bureaucratic, funding system for public schools which includes 62 different criteria, will be simplified to a customized formula that is based on meeting the needs of the students in the school district.

He also plans on working towards simplifying the Education Code, giving school districts more leeway on meeting school standards. He aims to get schools focused on teaching “a more balanced and creative school curriculum.”

“I think it’s a good investment to the future of our generation,” senior William Lai said regarding Brown’s policy of increased use of technology in schools. “[Increasing technology] can create more jobs later in the future … and potentially help decrease debt in California.”

With one out of four California students not proficient in English, Brown hopes to increase English proficiency and high school graduation rates in his education policy. He hopes to achieve this by “adopting instructional materials that provide intensive intervention and support for English learners,” as well as expanding after-school and summer school English learning programs.

“I see California once again leading … in public education and openness to every kind of person, whatever their color is,” Brown said.

 

Devil Review

October 5, 2010 Leave a comment
By Catherine Tadina
 
When I walked into Devil I expected the worst. The impact of Shyamalan’s soiled reputation from his previous flops was already palpable the moment I stepped into the theater: not a lot of people came to watch the movie; there were 10 or so people at most.
The premise of Devil is basic: five strangers get stuck in an elevator and strange things start to happen. One-by-one, the people in the elevator die gruesome deaths. NYPD Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) first conducts a background search on the five people to find which one of them is the murderer but realizes that these deaths are caused by a malevolent entity that seems to be haunting the entire building. In Bowden’s investigation, the dark pasts of the five strangers are interconnected.
The plot progresses in a predictable sequence: lights turn off, violent sounds of people in the background, lights turn back on, a person is dead. This happened so many times in the movie, it seemed that the movie comprised mostly of blank screens and sounds in the background.
The movie’s plot was very short, and most of the movie felt like filler simply to pass the time. Irrelevant montages of the building used to transition from once scene to another stuck out like a sore thumb. Moreover, characters were undeveloped; in the end, I knew little about the characters except for a brief summary of their dark pasts–and thusly did not feel sympathetic towards them. Most importantly, the acting was contrived–with the exception of Chris Messina, who did a great job portraying the fraught, yet resolute detective.Nevertheless, for a film with a very basic plot, the creators of Devil surely found a way to make the movie a little more interesting, involving the police and some innocent victims in the process. The ending was unexpected, but in a good way–a climactic, albeit moralistic “twist ending” typical of Shyamalan thriller movies. The ending was enjoyable and was definitely the best part of the movie as it was the most emotional. I came to see Devil with extremely low expectations of the movie, ready to disparage the latest Shyamalan creation. The ending was fulfilling, but everything that preceded is snooze-worthy. Shyamalan’s skillful use of the “twist ending” proves that maybe Shyamalan has not lost his touch; but then again, it also proves that Shyamalan is still a one-trick-pony. I would give Devil a 3 out of 5.
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