When Half Moon Bay High School sophomore Salvador Alvarez first joined the school’s jazz ensemble and marching band last year, he was apprehensive about being dismissed by his elder peers as a younger underclassman. Beyond that, Alvarez said, he was acutely aware of his status as one of the few Latino students involved in the school’s music programs.
“I felt like I was one of the few Hispanic (students) here,” said Alvarez. “And I thought, ‘Why aren’t Hispanics or other minorities involved in music?’ In a way, I felt different because I couldn’t relate to other people.”
That social divide is felt by many at Half Moon Bay High School — and throughout the Cabrillo Unified School District. Fifty-eight percent of the district’s approximately 3,300 students are from minority groups. They are primarily of Hispanic heritage. The gulf encompasses socioeconomic backgrounds as well, with around 47 percent qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch at school, the state’s designation for socioeconomically disadvantaged students.
Of course, this gulf between people of different cultures is not unique to local schools. Particularly given the national political climate, many people feel alienated even within their own geographic communities.
But over time, said Alvarez, who plays the tenor saxophone, his perceptions of being an outsider dissolved. Despite concerns of encountering a competitive, dismissive environment, it didn’t take long for him to weave himself into the groups’ social fabric.
“It’s kind of like a second family, in a way,” he said. “I can trust the people in the jazz band and marching band. They’re just really supportive with everything, both academic life and social life.”
Other students at Half Moon Bay High School recalled experiences where social clubs and extracurricular groups acted as support systems during difficult times.
Junior Yesenia Leal Becerra described the robust outpouring of compassion she received in the wake of a family tragedy.
“I have at least one friend or classmate (on a given day) who will come up to me and ask, ‘Are you doing OK?’” said Becerra, a member of the school’s “One of a Kindness” campaign, a group of students dedicated to fostering positivity around campus. “I really appreciated that, because they took the time to ask. Maybe they’re also having a bad day. It makes me feel like I get to know more of their life and their story.”
Becerra also acknowledges that the school’s racial divide can cause problems.
“People come together and get along in school, during class,” she said. “But after class, in lunch, it can kind of separate people.”
Senior Daniela Corona, a major presence on the school’s wrestling, track and field and cross-country teams, in addition to her involvement in the school’s National Honor Society, said that she’s seen the most segregation in clubs like Interact and NHS that frequently hold events during afternoons and weekends.
“I don’t know about other people, but me and others who come from my background can’t exactly do that, because we have work,” she said. “It’s not something where we can just go, ‘Oh, I’ll give up a day to donate clothes.’ I can’t. It’s not the kind of thing I can do.”
Junior Cristian Alvarez, who serves as the school’s student body treasurer, said that while it can sometimes be a struggle to overcome social separation, there’s always somebody to talk to for support.
“Not only the counselors, but people in general are always open,” he said.
“Just within our (student) leadership, there’s always somebody to talk to,” echoed Senior Jill Gijon. “And to be able to communicate with if you have any worries.
“I came from (Sea Crest School), and it was harder for me because I am from a Hispanic, Latino family,” she continued. “There weren’t really many Hispanic people there. But coming into the high school, it was much more of a balance. And everybody gets along with each other, too.”
Half Moon Bay High School Principal John Nazar said that he would dispute the idea that there are two different worlds among the school’s student body.
“We’re not ignoring (these differences),” he said. “We need to do a better job on supporting some of our students, academically, that are second-language speakers. That’s definitely one of the areas that we are going to do better in. And with our socioeconomically disadvantaged students.
“On a social basis, the network is there to make all kids feel like a part of the school,” added Nazar. “The more a kid will get involved, the more they’ll fell like a part of this great universe that we have here of kids just going to school and being friends.”