Los Cerritos Elementary School students

Students Help Chart the Way Forward for SSFUSD's Strategic Plan

Alta Loma Middle School teacher Kelly Duncan (r) moderates a panel discussion with (l to r) Baden High junior Donna Guerra and El Camino High junior Eza Vedar and sophomore Jamie Wong.
What do students need to know to be successful after high school? 
That was the topic of conversation at South San Francisco Unified School District’s (SSFUSD) March 4 town hall, where about 100 participants gathered to figure out how best to prepare SSFUSD’s students for the future.
The event also featured a trio of high school students, who talked about what life is like for them and their peers now in 2023.
SSFUSD school board members Patricia Murray and Chialin Hsieh attend the district's March 4 town hall. Participants discuss what SSFUSD students need to know to be successful after high school during the district's March 4 town hall event.
Learning to Communicate and Connect with Others
Jamie Wong, a sophomore from El Camino High School, said the school’s leadership program has helped her to find her voice.
“I’m really just happy and thankful that I had the opportunity to join this program, because I truly believe that me helping my student body as well as my community has really shaped my development.”
Eza Vedar, a junior, agreed.
“As a young person, I feel that we’re not heard every single day just because we’re young, and we’re still trying to figure out life. . .but we are trying to find out what we want to do in the future and what we want to fight for in this world.” 
Meanwhile, Donna Guerra, a junior at Baden High School, said the small classes and teachers at Baden have helped her to come out of her shell.
“At Baden, I learned how to be more social, to talk more to everybody and be more friendly, and the teachers helped me out there.”
The Pandemic Hangover
Moderator Kelly Duncan, a teacher at Alta Loma Middle School, then asked the students to consider how COVID-19 had affected their educational experience.
Vedar, who identified herself as a straight-A student in the past, said she spent her entire freshman year online and still suffers from a lack of motivation as well as other lingering effects from the pandemic.
“Going back into my sophomore year. . .I felt like a freshman. I was really lost, and I had no idea how to do the things that we used to do before. . and now as a junior, I can sometimes still feel like an eighth grader. I still feel immature sometimes in not knowing where my time management goes.”
Like Vedar, Guerra also felt lost after returning to school as a sophomore in March 2022.
She said the transition was worse for her, because she had moved to Mexico during eighth grade to help care for her siblings after her mother was diagnosed with cancer.
“It was really hard for me, ‘cause I did not know anything, and I also kind of forgot how to speak English, and when I came to South City, my teachers weren’t really that helpful. . .I forgot how to do math. I forgot how to write sometimes too, and then I would ask them for help, and they wouldn’t help me. They would get mad.”
She said things changed when she transferred to Baden, where teachers were more patient, and where she was able to receive assistance with language translations.
Post-Pandemic Recovery and the Future
According to Wong, support is critical to helping students develop a love of learning again. 
“I can’t focus the way I used to,” she said. “We can’t learn the same way as we used to. I think we need to find new ways to be able to keep our students interested.”
She urged adults and teachers to be patient with her and her fellow students and adjust to what they have been through. 
“Just to know that we have that support from the adults in our lives would truly mean a lot.”
Vedar concurred. 
“Even though I got through my freshman year, I don’t remember much of it,” said Vedar. 
All three students also thought that schools should incorporate real-world problems and scenarios into the classroom, so that students would be prepared to grapple with them after graduation.
“Some ways that they could do better is to have classes that talk more about careers. . .and then also prepare us for college better,” Guerra said.
Wong said that having a wide array of electives would allow students to explore their interests and discover their passion.
“Being able to have all of those choices of different classes and electives could really help shape their minds and what they want to see of themselves in the future,” she said. 
Vedar agreed. She said helping students define their future should be a driving focus of schools.
“I believe creating that pathway, more personalized for a student, can really help them engage with what they want to do at school.”
A Portrait of a Graduate
The attendees then turned their attention to reviewing the following matrix of qualities that the district’s working group had earlier identified as traits that would help SSFUSD students succeed after high school:
Portrait of a Graduate first draft
The working group had arrived at the above traits after sifting through about 3,700 responses to a December survey asking students, parents, teachers, employees, and community members to suggest qualities they thought would help SSFUSD students succeed after high school.
The town hall discussions prompted attendees to recommended the following changes to the matrix:
Portrait of a Graduate second draft
The task before the working group will now be to finalize the portrait of a graduate based on community feedback.