Different paths, same target

LEFT: Gilroy High School principal Marco Sanchez. RIGHT:

The path to college couldn’t have been more different for the
principals of Gilroy’s two comprehensive high schools. But the
lessons learned once they arrived were nearly identical: education
is the key to success.
The path to college couldn’t have been more different for the principals of Gilroy’s two comprehensive high schools. But the lessons learned once they arrived were nearly identical: education is the key to success.

For Gilroy High School Principal Marco Sanchez, graduating from high school, let alone attending college, seemed like a long shot. During a speech he delivered last week to the Gilroy Rotary Club, Sanchez shared the inspirational story of a student nicknamed “Supe,” a wiry underdog with a knack for picking fights with boys twice his size, as he found his way.

“The nickname described everything this student was not,” Sanchez said. “He was a sixth grader with a big mouth, a big Afro and big glasses.”

Born to a father with only a fifth grade education and a mother who dropped out of high school in the 10th grade, Supe spent more time in the principal’s office than the principal, Sanchez joked. After one particularly demoralizing defeat during a brawl with a fellow student named Angelito, the wrestling coach at the middle school Supe attended dragged the boy into the wrestling room and challenged him to work out his aggression in a more appropriate forum. Supe was hooked, Sanchez said.

He dedicated his eighth grade wrestling season to his mother, who passed away that year. That season turned out to be one of his finest as Sanchez wrestled in honor of a courageous woman who juggled work and child rearing while earning her GED.

The boy went on to earn countless championships and awards in high school, and his talent as a wrestler began taking him places.

“Supe began hearing a word he hadn’t heard much,” Sanchez said. “That word was ‘college.’ ”

The first in his immediate family to graduate from high school, Supe looked to the sky when he accepted his diploma, whispering, “This is for you, Mom.”

With a full ride to Arizona State University, Supe went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology, a master’s degree in education at the University of Phoenix and a Ph.D. in organizational leadership at Northcentral University. He also wrestled for Puerto Rico in the 1996 Olympics.

He doesn’t go by the nickname “Supe” anymore, but Sanchez still credits much of his success to the coaches and teachers who taught him that college was in his future.

Though he also came from humble beginnings, Christopher High School Principal John Perales never had any say in whether he would attend college.

“I was going,” he said. “My parents told me that from day one.”

His parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico before he was born, and every chance they got, they reminded Perales they did not want him to have to struggle to succeed they way they had. Though neither of his parents attended university themselves, going to college was something that was always reinforced at home, he said.

When Perales was a freshman at Gilroy High School, he sat down with his parents and guidance counselor, Arturo Cantu, to map out a four year plan for college. Like Sanchez, Perales planned to play sports in college and was set to attend Santa Clara University on a football scholarship. When the school dropped the program, he decided to attend National University in San Jose, where he earned his bachelor’s degree. He went on to earn a master’s in education administration and supervision from San Jose State University.

Though their paths to college, and to professional success, followed very different courses, Perales and Sanchez agree that they wouldn’t be the leaders they are today if not for their education.

“If not for college, where would I be? My good looks can only get me so far,” Perales laughed.

In an effort to keep college at the forefront of their students’ thoughts, both principals have thrown their support behind a monthly, districtwide “College Day” that was recently approved by the school district’s board of education. Starting this school year, teachers at schools throughout the district will wear college apparel on the first Friday of every month to foster a college-going culture beginning as early as the elementary grades.

“College is the absolute key to our students having a better life,” said Perales, who initially came up with the idea for a monthly day devoted to reminding students that they are destined for college. CHS already hosts a weekly college day and each teacher at the school proudly displays their college pennant in their classroom window.

“Many kids don’t know that college is an option for them,” Perales said. “They don’t know what they don’t know. We’re doing this because we want to keep college at the forefront of our thinking. I’m passionate about this. We have to get our kids through higher education. Only then will they be able to participate meaningfully in our society.”

Trustees and district staff agreed the designated college day and display of college pride is just a springboard from which they’d like to launch a renewed effort to create a culture of aiming for higher education. By inviting guest speakers and panels of students from various colleges and sharing the stories of their own educational journeys, teachers will introduce their students to values that extend beyond the curriculum, explained Marilyn Ayala, assistant superintendent of educational services.

“This is symbolic,” said Superintendent Deborah Flores. “This is just one tiny piece of a much bigger effort.”

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