From their first days as tiny tots in kindergarten to their last as fledgling high school graduates, step by step, students within the Cabrillo Unified School District edge closer to life beyond school. And while the district’s high graduation rate points toward bright futures in college and careers, that isn’t the case for all students.

In 2016, out of a cohort of 274 high schoolers, the district boasted a graduation rate of nearly 90 percent of its students. In 2018, more than 87 percent of Half Moon Bay High School seniors pursued some form of higher education, with around 41 percent attending four-year universities and more than 46 percent going on to two-year colleges. 

Those numbers were less robust for the district’s socioeconomically disadvantaged students. In 2016, around 80 percent of students who qualified for free or reduced-price lunches graduated from Half Moon Bay High School. In 2018, only 28 percent of the district’s socioeconomically disadvantaged students completed the course requirements needed for entrance into California State University and University of California schools.

But at all levels of the educational continuum, school district officials are working to bolster their students’ opportunities for success in life after graduation. Farallone View Elementary School Principal César Gaytán said that those efforts begin at the elementary school level.

“Apart from having students gain access to rigorous standards, we also give them the opportunity to build life skills that they can use anywhere they go, and that can help them be successful and more resilient in the face of pressure or stress,” said Gaytán.

He acknowledged the unique challenges for students struggling against socioeconomic realities like poverty. 

“Life can be challenging,” he said. “But we see challenges as an opportunity for us to be more resilient. So, we encourage children to stay the course and provide them with supports to reassure them that problems are a part of the world.” 

At Cunha Intermediate School, students become eligible for an elective class known as Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID, which aims to prepare them for four-year college or university. AVID teacher Tim Lugo said that the goal of the program, at the middle school level, is to guide students through their education at Cunha while preparing them for the rigors of high school. 

“We do some curriculum enhancement,” continued Lugo. “Like proper note-taking, organization (and) carrying on a good, constructive conversation. As an AVID teacher, that’s something I really promote; it just helps them to be a better, more well-rounded student.” 

At the high school level, AVID coordinator Janice Lee said the program focuses on helping students navigate their college and career prospects. 

“The program is geared towards future first-generation college students,” said Lee. “Everything is foreign when you don’t come from a family that uses the terminology and is aware of the deadlines and everything that goes into admission into a four-year college. 

For current students, Lee continued, AVID provides equal footing for those from families that may be unfamiliar with the college admissions process. Being knowledgeable about the availability of financial aid, for example, significantly increases the possibilities for aspiring college students. 

“The more information that we can provide, the more (college) becomes a realistic opportunity for their kids’ future,” she added. 

Half Moon Bay High School Principal John Nazar touched on the school’s recently expanded pathways for career technical education. Right now, students can become certified to work in agriculture and construction through a series of specialized courses. 

“They give students the possibility to pursue a field and interest that they have,” he said. “And really give them a heads-up as they move forward.” 

Regardless of the path they choose, Cabrillo Unified School District Superintendent Jane Yuster said the emphasis is on empowering kids to have autonomy in their decisions. 

“We’re here to say, ‘Yes you can,’” she continued, “and to provide that confidence in nudging (students) along to achieve really great things. People don’t get pushed or shuffled one way or another. We’re here to make sure that kids get the best education they need in order to be successful.”

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