“They are growing up in such a charged time. This population of kids are so open-minded, but they live in such a closed-minded world,” says one of the teachers who’s an advisor to the Soquel High School Multicultural Club. “I think it’s just really important for them to surround themselves with people who think like them and who accept them.”
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The COVID-19 pandemic limited what the 15-year-old Soquel High School Multicultural Club could do, but not its determination to make sure what it uniquely does for students carries on.
Soquel High seniors Olivia Castillo, Nick Levie, Keithlyn Garcia and Lynda Otero, several of the club’s officers, have been fundraising and organizing events like a “community unity” potluck dinner and silent auction this fall, even as they train more than 15 younger club members on how to take the reins. The silent auction helps raise funds for a field trip and Multicultural Graduation.
Why? The club, they say, has offered them a unique welcoming environment at a time of social upheaval and amid the pandemic.
“It created a feeling of home — a home base for me in high school,” said Otero, who joined the club in her freshman year. “Through the Multicultural Club I get to share a piece of me with the younger people who are new to our school, and I just want to keep the home base for everyone.”
On Tuesday, during an after-school picnic hosted by the club at Anna Jean Cummings County Park, located next to Soquel High, about 30 students made tie-dye shirts and gave each other henna tattoos. They talked about the club’s activities as songs from the world’s biggest pop star, Bad Bunny, played loudly in the background.
As with the Multicultural Graduation, the club is open to all students at Soquel High and includes students from a wide variety of backgrounds.
Advisors and Soquel High teachers Roxana Jimenez and Katrina Del Carlo and two other school officials helped supervise as the students led the activity. Jimenez is now training Del Carlo to take over as the primary advisor to the club.
When Jimenez and Del Carlo noted at the end of last school year that all the club’s officers this year would be seniors, they were determined to provide a smooth transition. They suggested to the officers that they train interns to take on the roles of president, secretary and treasurer. The students took the idea and ran with it.
Del Carlo was part of the club when she was a student at Soquel, graduating in 2015 and becoming a teacher there last year. Jimenez has been an advisor since 2010.
“When I was in high school, it felt like you’re either on track to go to college, or you’re not on track to go to college, and I didn’t feel like I fit in one of those,” said Del Carlo. “So it was just really hard to feel a part of the school. The club was just so open to anybody coming and the career path that you wanted.”
Through the club, Del Carlo says she learned how to apply for financial aid and about the potential of community college after high school.
For Jimenez, advising the club has been a highlight during her years at the high school. She’s been teaching Spanish there since 1995.
Originally from El Salvador, she understands some of the challenges faced by families who aren’t from the area, but who have come to build a community here. She sees the club as a reflection of society’s changing demographics. She also sees it as being one way the school can provide support to students who are struggling academically or socially.
While the students come from diverse backgrounds, many come from Latino and English-learner households. They are a particular focus now for educators, who say the pandemic has widened achievement gaps for those students. That’s true nationally and in Santa Cruz County, say local administrators.
Jimenez believes the school has a responsibility to encourage all students, regardless of their backgrounds, to excel academically.
“I’m going to tell you, it is our responsibility,” she said. “We are not a private school. We are a public school and we’re going to receive all types of kids with all types of capacities. And it is our job to encourage them and to keep them.”
Jimenez hopes this club shows students that despite facing enormous challenges, they have a place and a voice, can lead successful lives — and can take Advanced Placement classes.
This is the second year Del Carlo has served alongside Jimenez as a co-advisor.
“They are growing up in such a charged time. This population of kids are so open-minded, but they live in such a closed-minded world,” Del Carlo said. “I think it’s just really important for them to surround themselves with people who think like them and who accept them.”
As the picnic ended, freshman and club member Leslie Ruiz Vega said she signed up to be a volunteer because she wants to be an officer next year — maybe the club secretary.
“I feel like, as a freshman, it’s where you start everything, you start your whole career and start looking for schools,” she said. “So I thought, being part of the Multicultural Club was a way I can connect with people who are from the same culture, and have the same issues as me.”