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Home / Articles / News / Features /  The Freshman

The Freshman

Santa Fe Community College has a plan for reversing first-year student dropout rates—but can a local institution overcome a national epidemic?

April 6, 2011, 1:00 am

Ana Chávez, 21, says a Spanish-English language barrier further isolates struggling high school students.
Credits: Alexa Schirtzinger

Upon entering SFCC, Ana Chávez, 21, had spent time at all three of Santa Fe’s public high schools—and graduated—but she still wasn’t ready for college-level coursework.

“The whole Santa Fe Public Schools system didn’t work for me,” Chávez tells SFR. Chávez, who immigrated to the US from El Salvador when she was nine years old, speaks perfect English now—but in high school, she says, still faced a language barrier.

When Chávez attended Santa Fe High, there were relatively few bilingual teachers, she says. (Stephens estimates that between 10 and 20 percent of his staff speaks both Spanish and English fluently; at Capital, Romero says, the fraction is closer to one-third.)

Instead, Chávez connected with other Spanish-speaking students.

“We’d never go to class because the teachers didn’t want to take the time to explain [assignments] to us,” Chávez says. “I don’t know how I managed to pass because I never did anything.”

But when her friends started dropping out and getting into trouble, Chávez says, she made up her mind to do the opposite—and she switched to Capital High.

“I lasted, like, a semester,” Chávez confesses. Finally, at SER/Career Academy, she found her niche, cramming more than 23 credits into a single year before she graduated. But it still wasn’t enough and, after taking SFCC’s placement test, Chávez spent her first two semesters of community college in developmental math and English courses.

“I nailed English at [SER/Career] Academy,” Chávez says, but there was still plenty she didn’t know. “Some of this stuff, I had never gone over with them,” she admits.

Once at SFCC, Chávez learned the skills she needed to earn an associate’s degree. She is now in her first semester at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in communications.

Chávez credits her own motivation, but also her family’s unflagging support.

“The things my mother would tell me—‘Get your butt up and go to school; remember that school’s going to help you’—I knew it was from her heart,” Chávez tells SFR. “You have to have somebody inspirational in your life, somebody to push you and say, ‘You have to keep going.’”
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