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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on May 15th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 11 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 20, Issue 11

Future Leaders call for changes to graduation requirements in rowdy forum

By KASEY BUBNASH

A community forum hosted by Future Leaders of America (FLA) went awry on May 13, after students presenting on university entrance requirements cut off a school board member’s comments and attendees shouted her down.


BRIGHT FUTURES?
While about 91 percent of Santa Maria Joint Union High School District seniors graduated in 2018, only about 24 percent of those grads met their A-Gs, according to the California Department of Education.
FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM

The forum was similar to one the organization hosted at the same time last year, where students presented data on the low rates of local public high school graduates meeting university entrance requirements, known as A-Gs. At both presentations, students called for systematic changes that they say would help students better meet those standards, in turn making higher education increasingly accessible.

“I believe [the district is] setting us up for failure,” high school student Anthony Vilchis said during this year’s packed forum, which FLA students and leadership hosted at the Veterans’ Memorial Center.

Vilchis and other FLA students presented data that was similar to last year’s and equally startling: While about 91 percent of Santa Maria Joint Union High School District seniors graduated in 2018, only about 24 percent of those grads met their A-Gs, according to the California Department of Education.

That means that only 24 percent of Santa Maria’s public high school grads were eligible to apply to four-year universities.

A-Gs are a specific set of requirements California high school students must complete in order to go to schools within the UC and CSU systems. A-G courses are often different from those needed to graduate from high school. They require a higher final grade and are typically more difficult.

It’s ultimately a student’s responsibility to stay on track with the requirements, and students say the district has failed to adequately inform parents and students about A-Gs, and that there aren’t enough support services available to help students meet the requirements.

At the forum, Ernest Righetti High School junior Edgar Ramirez said that like many of his peers, his parents came to the U.S. from Mexico. They didn’t graduate from high school, he said, and don’t know much about navigating the education system in the U.S. Ramirez said he didn’t even know what A-Gs were until he joined FLA at the beginning of high school.

He was glad to find out about A-Gs at an early age, but Ramirez said he’s noticed that many of his friends still don’t know what the requirements are or how to meet them.

“This system doesn’t work,” Ramirez said. “It’s failing us. We need change.”

Students again called on the district to align its graduation requirements with the university entrance requirements, so that all students graduating would be eligible for four-year universities. The standards would be higher, but students say higher expectations would garner better results.

FLA gathered more than 400 signatures from community members who support the alignment proposal, and called on the community to attend an upcoming district board meeting to show support for alignment.

But when district school board member Diana Perez attempted to share her thoughts on the issue, she was quickly shut down. Perez, who went to the front of the room once the student presentations were finished, said that while she admired the students’ work, the A-Gs issue is incredibly complex.

Perez was interrupted by Jesse Funes, President of the House of Pride and Equality, who repeatedly shouted, “We need a resolution!” When Perez attempted to continue, an FLA student unplugged her microphone. Another student then stepped in front of Perez, led an FLA chant, and then told attendees to have a good night.

John Davis, assistant superintendent of student services at the high school district, was furious after the presentation, which he said was full of “misinformation” and lacked any real information regarding the complexities of the A-Gs situation.

The Santa Maria Joint Union High School District has guidance counselors and teachers who present information on university entrance requirements to classes starting as early as the eighth grade. Counselors help students stay on track, do one-on-one work with students and parents, and he said that posters containing information about A-Gs are plastered all over every school site.

There are very real issues with A-Gs in Santa Maria, Davis said, and the district has been working to get more students through the most difficult A-G courses, including chemistry and Algebra II.

“Are our A-G rates acceptable?” Davis said. “No, we don’t feel they’re acceptable.”

But Davis said the problem is systemic, and simply ramping up the requirements for all students is not a viable solution. Davis also took issue with the way students treated Perez and talked about other educators who he said work hard to help students in Santa Maria, especially when FLA hasn’t even attempted to reach out to the district to discuss the solution the organization has been touting for over a year.

“They never came to us,” Davis said, adding that his door is open.

Eder Gaona-Macedo, executive director of the FLA, refuted Davis’s statement, and said he sent district officials a letter calling for the alignment on May 8, about a week prior to the forum.




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