Before ever walking through the doors at Capital High School, incoming freshmen hear a lot of things about the school—that it’s rough, that it’s a bad school, that it’s a ghetto school, that there’s a lot of violence and gangs. But Capital High students say that’s not what their experience has shown.
“You could go anywhere and see the complete opposite,” says Kevin Martinez, a Capital High senior. “People here want to go to school. They want to graduate.”
So students and their mentors from Littleglobe’s Youth Media Project have organized “City of Dreamers,” an event at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on Sunday, May 8—an effort to change the community’s perceptions using short videos, live radio productions, music and on-stage conversations that show what students from Capital can do and have done.
“It’ll open doors for future generations,” says Nathalie Beltran, a Capital senior who this fall heads to St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. “They won’t see you with pity or shame.”
“It’s always assumed that they’re not worthy,” says Toby Wright, who teaches students in the AVID college-readiness program and has been at Capital for four years. “That affects them. For some of them it means, ‘I’m just going to work harder and do better. I’m just going to be a superhero, because that’s what it takes to get over this.’”
There’s no denying that at one point, the school had problems. Channell Wilson-Segura, who was a student and a teacher there before becoming its directing principal, says a zero-tolerance policy and work with the gang task force cleaned things up, beginning about eight years ago. But the students still face a fair share of issues. Every student is provided with free lunches, because so many families have incomes that fall below the poverty line. At home, Wilson-Segura says, substance abuse may be an issue, and quiet space to study is often not available. Sometimes, she says, people come forward wanting to help, and she has to explain that at times, what the students most need is something basic like deodorant to use while they’re living in a car, or business clothes to wear to an interview.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the kids at our school— they come from severe poverty or they’re not in a place, they’re homeless, or they’re undocumented, so therefore they don’t feel encouraged or excited to graduate and go on to college and get a degree, and therefore they can’t get a job,” says Heather Sellers, coordinator with the student-support organization Communities in Schools at Capital. “There are a lot of factors that are affecting these kids, and I think the more adults they have, the more things that they’re connected to, and the more people that believe in them, then they’ll be able to believe in themselves.”
Sellers brought Littleglobe, a nonprofit that coordinates community art projects with an eye on social change, to the school last year to support kids and provide some extra motivation to stay in school. Students learned how to shoot video, record audio and conduct interviews.
“All of my current students who have been involved, it really has just changed them,” Sellers says. “It really helped them feel like they were a part of something that grew into this big project. They’re super proud. … And these were some students who weren’t coming to school—ever, and now they are, and they’re totally and completely being successful.”
Both she and Littleglobe’s Chris Jonas recall hearing a story of a time students ran a carwash fundraiser and discussed not putting “Capital High” on the sign, fearing that if they did, no one would stop.
The films, radio features, music and speakers such as Estevan Rael-Galvez of Culture Connects, the city’s cultural planning effort, are intended to work together to spark conversations about immigration and equity issues in Santa Fe, using Capital as a framework.
“We talk about equity, but the language we use doesn’t demonstrate equity within our own town,” Jonas says. “For those of us who do seriously believe in social equity, we need to be conscious how we speak about Santa Fe’s Southside. We’re reiterating the same negative predisposition that our values seem to indicate is not the case.”
Opened in 1988 as Santa Fe’s second public high school, Capital has long struggled in the shadow of Santa Fe High.
A wall near Wright’s AVID classroom is hung with photos of seniors and copies of their acceptance letters, many including significant scholarship offers, and some have secured competitive national scholarships, but still, when presenters from those programs visit Santa Fe, they only stop at Santa Fe High.
“Sometimes it’s sad, because they don’t realize how much potential we could have,” says Brenda Zamarron Acosta, a senior who plans to start her higher education at Santa Fe Community College before transferring to a four-year university.
"People are going to have to actually take note of what happens here, and not just assume what happens here."
“You’re the underdog. They don’t expect you to do anything. We were overlooked, but we always found a way to get there,” says Martinez, who has secured a place in UNM’s medical school and a full-ride scholarship. “It’s kind of been motivating to me. People don’t believe you’re going to succeed. They’re like, ‘You went to Capital and you did all this?’ … People are going to have to actually take note of what happens here, and not just assume what happens here.”
Part of the success Wilson-Segura attributes to an individual case-management approach—that the specialized programs they run, like a medical careers track and AVID, allow teachers to build relationships with students over four years. If word comes through the social media grapevine that a student is struggling, even if they’ve graduated and moved on to college, Wilson-Segura will get in touch personally to ask what’s going on and how she can help.
“It’s working with every child, period,” she says. “How do we encourage them to stay in school, to like school, to like learning?”
In the current class of seniors, 55 percent applied to a four-year college and 45 percent now plan to attend.
“Our kids do have dreams, just like anybody else,” Wilson-Segura says. “Our goal is to help support that.”
City of Dreamers
7 pm Sunday, May 8
The Lensic Performing Arts Center
211 W San Francisco St., $5