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Youth Life!

The Privilege of Walking
Author: Magali Aguado, Fabiola Cardenas

Every high school freshman dreams of earning a 
diploma.  Unfortunately, at Watsonville High School, 
about 20 percent of the freshmen will never make it to 
their senior year. And of those who become seniors, 
more than 10 percent will not graduate. When we first 
thought of doing this story, we believed the low 
graduation rate and high dropout rates had to do with 
the lack of resources available for students. We 
wanted to know who was to blame, so we interviewed 
students and counselors to try and figure out why 
students are being held back from the privilege of 
Surprisingly, after interviewing several students and 
counselors from Watsonville and Aptos High, we found 
out that lack of resources might not be the problem. 
There are many resources offered to students to help 
them graduate.  It isn’t clear why students are not 
taking advantage of the resources. It could be a lack 
of awareness, a lack of support or because they do not 
apply themselves.  It is clear that students need to 
take initiative on their own and seize control of 
their education and future.
With only six regular counselors at a campus of 3,500 
students, it is not easy to reach every single 
student. Counselors at Watsonville High School would 
like to provide more one-on-one time, but each 
counselor is in charge of at least 500 students.  Out 
of the 3,500 students at Watsonville High, 
approximately 82 percent are classified as being from 
migrant families. Some think this may contribute to 
the high dropout and low graduation rates.
A lot of the migrant students don’t finish high school 
because they go back and forth from their hometown in 
Mexico, or they are unsettled and keep moving from one 
place to another which negatively affects their 
education.  Another challenge for the migrant 
population is to acquire the verbal and written skill 
level necessary to complete academic classes in a 
language which is not their first, or which they don’t 
know at all.
There are also those students who give up, either 
academically or personally.  “Many students quit 
because they need to feel they’re part of something 
and they don’t get that,” says Aptos High School 
Guidance Counselor Blanca Baltazar-Beltrán.  She says 
that many of the students she has seen drop out of 
high school are those students who do not get involved 
in extracurricular activities, whether it’s sports, 
clubs, or any other school-related activity.
“There is no blame to the students,” says Watsonville 
High School Guidance Counselor Luis J. Medina. “There 
are a lot of students who either give up or do not 
apply themselves, and it is not because they’re not 
smart. They are. They just need extra support and need 
to be more responsible. And that is where we, as 
counselors, come in.”
Regardless of the existing programs and alternatives 
available for students; counselors from both Aptos and 
Watsonville High schools say they are working on some 
changes and new programs that they hope will 
eventually have a positive effect on students’ 
academic achievements.  
Watsonville High School, the counseling department is 
trying to achieve a closer relationship with students 
and eventually share what Medina calls the “ideal 
relationship.”  He wants students to feel confident 
about coming in to talk to a counselor, “not only when 
we call them in, but regularly,” he says. “Whether it 
is to share their concerns, doubts, comments or happy 
Watsonville High School has also planned, but not yet 
begun, a mandatory tutoring program to prepare 
students to for the new “High School Exit Exam.” 
Although a lot of people think this test is unfair for 
English language learners, passing this new exam is 
currently a requirement for graduation. Some see this 
test as yet another challenge for students to overcome 
in order to gain the privilege of walking.
At Aptos High School, Baltazar-Beltrán and other 
counselors are working with a new program 
called “Proyecto Xotchil.” This program includes about 
20 girls who meet weekly for tutoring, counseling and 
just to hang out. They also have monthly parent 
meetings and go on field trips.  Each one of the girls 
has a female mentor from the community who acts as a 
role model. The mentors are all professionals: 
doctors, lawyers, teachers and others.  Baltazar-
Beltrán says, “These mentors give the girls personal 
and academic support and they do it in a fun way. It 
is something the girls like to do and it helps them 
believe in themselves.”
When we started looking into the low graduation rate, 
we were looking for someone or something to blame. We 
discovered it isn’t that simple. Everyone has a part 
to play. The students are not solely to blame.  The 
counselors are not solely to blame, and there are 
resources available. The key is getting the word out 
about available resources and teamwork. It is all 
about teamwork.  Baltazar-Beltrán says, “If we work 
together, we can do it.” 
But, the only way to secure success is for the student 
to have a goal of his or her own.  Despite the fact 
that each Watsonville High School counselor must 
divide a limited amount of time and attention among 
500 students, despite their best intentions; and 
despite the large number of resources available, the 
final decisions and responsibilities will always fall 
to the student. 
Medina has the final word. “My main goal as a 
counselor is to help that student have a goal of their 
own.  It doesn’t matter if it is to go to a local 
college, to the university, or anything else.  As long 
as they have a goal to pursue, they will go on.”