Dear Santa Barbara High School community,
Over the past two years, I have seen my own life reflected in headlines from around the world, including in the pages of this newspaper. The pandemic exacerbated the mental health crisis for teenagers in ways we are only beginning to understand. The basic human rights and dignity of LGBTQ+ students are being threatened by bills in state legislatures that politicize our schools. A new field of therapy has emerged to help those coping with climate grief—feelings of helplessness associated with the impending effects of climate change. Sometimes, growing up in the 21st century feels like living in the center of a maelstrom. Other times, the world around me seems quiet beyond belief.
Editing The Forge has been an immense privilege. Through class discussions, one-on-one sessions with writers, and reading the stories that our staff works so hard to tell, I have gained a deep connection to this school and the people who make it special. Through generous donations from alumni and illustrious stories of the newspaper’s past, I have also been connected to over 100 years of history and students who have loved The Forge.
Ultimately, connection is the goal of our work. I have felt truly seen at Santa Barbara High School in a way I never have anywhere else. My only hope for my time here is that, in some way, I have helped others to feel the same way.
Being a journalist has taught me to ask better questions in my own life, with friends and family. Here is what I have discovered recently. Life in the “endemic” phase of COVID-19 is a complicated combination of mundane and extreme. At this point, I think getting into college is a bigger concern for most students than getting COVID. And yet, others around them may have lost loved ones during the pandemic. Teachers are leaving at an astonishing rate, right when students need stability more than anything. While honoring the unimaginable number of lives that were lost and disrupted due to the pandemic, I do also believe we need to find ways to move on. I do not want to focus on the same clichés anymore: unprecedented, uncertain, unknown. Rather, I want to focus on individuals to give a glimpse inside their singular experiences. I want to discover, through journalism, art, and friendship, what is known.
Of all the people I have gotten to meet at Santa Barbara High School (and there have been many), I have been overwhelmed by the kindness they possess. Whether they are jazz guitarists, newly recruited athletes, or unbelievably talented artists, they make this school feel like home every single day. Although I never attended any other high school, I truly believe this is a distinctive quality of SBHS and the Dons spirit. Alumni always like to make it known that this is “the high school,” the original institution charged with educating the young minds of Santa Barbara and raising up our city. This is reflected in the community as well where business owners, politicians, chefs, parents, artists, athletes, and parents represent Santa Barbara High School with pride.
Education will never be perfect of course, and Santa Barbara High School is faced with many of the systemic issues that plague schools around the country. I believe the single change that would have the largest impact on quality of education is increasing teacher pay. Teachers are being asked to coordinate pandemic response, assist economically disadvantaged students, spot signs of mental illness, and in the worst situations be on the front line of horrific shootings. They are de facto nurses, social workers, psychiatrists, and security guards. All of this is before they actually start giving lectures or grading papers. Teachers should not be put in the position to do this extra work, but they should certainly be paid for all of it. They are motivated by a passion for learning and a commitment to the next generation, but also often get caught up in a web of paperwork and political battles. I believe they truly need more freedom. If they know their subjects well, they need to be given the room to actually be transformational in their teaching methods. Not all teachers are the same and not all classes are the same, but a good teacher will discover what works.
Elite colleges are also extremely culpable in the lack of funding for public education. Their preference for students from private preparatory schools is sickening. As long as this is the case, parents with the means will to continue to send their children to private schools, and the resources needed for a stellar education will be reserved for the elite. These extremely expensive schools are specifically designed to get students into top colleges by giving them experiences that create good resume items and essay content. At most Ivy League schools, students in the top 1% of income brackets outnumber those in the bottom 60% and around a quarter of students went to prep schools while only 2% of high school students overall attend these schools. The obvious solution is for colleges to commit to accepting students from private and public schools proportionally to enrollment in those schools. Over time, wealthier students will enroll in public schools without that advantage in their college applications, and their parents will contribute to the public education system at large. A huge part of Santa Barbara High School’s success is its diversity, economically and racially, but currently the system is opposed to schools like ours.
Finally, students should not ever be afraid in their classes. Angel Castillo should be graduating Santa Barbara High School next week. In January 2021, he was gunned down at a Santa Barbara street corner. The children who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School should be in high school right now. Entire futures have been erased, and the reality of all kids in school has been changed forever. Whenever a loud noise is heard in class, I think almost all students have one particular fear that comes to the front of their minds. Unthinkable, cruel, disgusting tragedies are somehow an actual possibility. Republicans must overcome political and financial reservations and act with some shred of empathy for children everywhere to enact gun control legislation at any cost. When Ukraine must sympathize with America for the senseless carange on our soil, something is desperately wrong. The families in Uvalde and everyone who has been affected by gun violence deserve peace and justice.
I sincerely hope that the next generation of students does not have to deal with these same issues. We must move forward, and it starts with empathy. It has been my incredible privilege to work with other passionate student storytellers to spread empathy over the past two years. The Forge has helped me find my voice, learn how to lead a broad spectrum of people, and discover my values. It has frustrated me time and time again, but above all, it has made me care when so many voices in the world we’re telling me not to. It has been an honor to get to care about this exceptional newspaper in an exceptional place with exceptional people. Through fire, pandemic, war, upheaval, and whatever else is yet to come, may The Forge continue its legacy of community, education, and truth.