Most Anzar students left before graduating

Noemy Vazquez-Santos and Cody Van Gelder embrace during the recessional at the Anzar High School graduation ceremony Thursday.

At Anzar High School, less than half—or 46 percent—of the students who set foot on the campus at some point during their high school career graduated from the same site last year, according to a report shared with trustees.
Last year’s senior class had a 100 percent graduation rate, the principal said, but many students changed schools or homes before graduating as Hawks.
“When families are experiencing economic hardship, mobility is higher,” said Principal Charlene McKowen in an interview with the Free Lance.
At Anzar, 51 percent of the students were classified as socioeconomically disadvantaged last year, according to the school’s accountability report card shared with school board trustees at the regularly scheduled school board meeting.
“It’s shocking the number of students that are moving around,” said McKowen, who noted the phenomenon is not specific to her campus. “The in’s and out’s of public school in an area that has such low social economic levels is astounding. Most people just don’t realize that.”
Anzar’s campus—located at 2000 San Juan Highway—is small and has no pool, band, color guard or Future Farmers of America group. Those voids have sent some students scurrying to other sites, but administrators say the school offers a personalized college prep experience where students are treated like family.
“Some students thrive in a small-school setting and other students want the big, huge, comprehensive experience,” said Ruben Zepeda, the district superintendent.
The graduation requirements for Anzar are actually higher than the state standards since the site mandates that students meet A-G requirements—the courses needed to attend University of California or California State University schools—in order to walk away with a diploma.
Zepeda noted that while the report presented at the recent school board meeting included the number of students that leave the district—43 students, or 30 percent—and the number that switched campuses without changing homes—30 students, or 21 percent—it doesn’t include data for those who transferred to Anzar.
At least 10 students transferred into the school, according to the principal. As for why students move, the reasons vary.
“Some of them are actually migrant students, but the moving out of the district has more to do with family and economics than anything else,” Zepeda said.
Luis Espinoza, who is the school’s football coach and teaches three levels of native speaker Spanish, knows there are a lot of parents who work in the fields in Aromas and San Juan Bautista.
He’s also seen that the addition of a football program in fall 2011 helped him retain more students. His first year of the program he lost 10 students from San Juan School—one of the high school’s two feeder campuses—to San Benito High School’s football team in the neighboring school district. But over the past three years, he’s lost only seven students.
“If they had band and color guard, I think we’d have more students here,” Espinoza said.
Espinoza was formerly a teacher at San Benito High School, which sports a band, an award-winning Central Coast Section football team and an FFA group.
“Coming here to Anzar, it’s different. You know the students. The students know you,” Espinoza said. “It’s just one of those schools—yes it’s small—but once you get here it’s a great community to teach in. They treat you like family.”

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