Salinas dropouts tell their stories Latest figures show surprising results

Brittani Medina | Photo, Jordan Montero

By Jordan Montero

People who live in Salinas may just assume that Salinas High School, being as old and respected as it is, is the best at everything it does. But when it comes to dropout rates, this is not true.

The school comes in third in graduation rates among Salinas high schools. Salinas High’s four-year cohort graduation rate in 2018 was 92.6 percent, which was behind Alisal High (93.7 percent) and North Salinas High (96.6 percent), according to figures from the California Department of Education. The Salinas Union High School District had a total graduation rate of 86.4 percent in the same year, which was below the statewide average of 87.3 percent.*

Latinos make up the majority of the community in Salinas and Monterey County. In the class of 2018, there were more than 2,100 Hispanic/Latino students in the Salinas Union High School District, and 1,800 in the district graduated. Only 704 had the requirements to attend a state four-year university. 

Most students are graduating, but fewer than half have the qualifications to further their education. And what about those missing students? These students either don’t have the grades or requirements, or they have dropped out. According to Data Quest, on average 300 seniors in the Salinas Union High School District do not graduate each year, according to figures that were updated through 2018.

Many teens don’t know the repercussions of their actions. Many nationwide studies have shown that dropping out of high school gives you an increased chance of poverty, homelessness and incarceration. 

According to the Huffington Post, if you live in poverty you are twice as likely  to drop out as compared to middle-class students, and ten times more likely to drop than a high- income teens. 

'You’re kind of stuck and have to work where you can and not where you want to'

High school dropouts typically have a lower incomes than the average high school graduate. The average high school dropout has an income of $20,241 compared to the average high school graduate that makes $36,424. On average that’s a $10,386 difference. Not to mention, the average college graduate makes $48,400 to $50,004. That’s a $28,159 to $29,763 difference from what a high school dropout would make.

Homelessness has increased in Salinas by 57 percent, according to the Salinas Californian, with many people not being able to afford to pay rent. In addition, according to The Huffington Post, 80 percent of America’s incarcerated population, both men and women, are high school dropouts. 

To learn first-hand what the life of a high school dropout was and is like, here are the stories of local high school dropouts past and present. 

Brittani Medina: Sixteen years ago, Brittani was an average student attending North Monterey County High School. She says she was trying her best to get by, but then she became pregnant the summer before her senior year.

She started attending Central Bay, a continuation school in Prunedale with the intent of  finishing faster and more efficiently. All she wanted to do was get on with her life as a new mother. 

Once her baby was born, it was a struggle to juggle life, a new baby and school. She was five credits short when she then decided she was done. But later she discovered that most jobs require at least a high school diploma. 

“After all that, I have learned it’s hard to get a job. You’re kind of stuck and have to work where you can and not where you want to,” she said.

Her second child was born two years later, and that’s when she decided to go to adult school in order to get her GED. That was the key to getting a good job. Now, she has been working for six years as an administrative clerk at a small insurance company.

Her advice is to stay in school; it’s the easiest way to get a job and make a livable wage without the extra time and extra hassle. 

Jose Martinez: The Salinas resident dropped out of high school about seven years ago. Jose didn’t enjoy school throughout his life. He found it hard to learn and was always behind. 

Once he reached high school at Alisal High, he tried school for a couple years before eventually dropping out before his senior year. He decided to help his family by working since he wasn’t going to school. He started waiting tables. But a couple years later, his girlfriend got pregnant. He then decided it was time to step up and take care of his girlfriend and new baby on the way.

Jose went back to school. He found there weren’t any jobs that paid enough to support his new baby. Jose felt defeated and that he wasted his life working low-paying jobs when education could have taken him further. He went to the adult school in Salinas in order to obtain his GED and now works in sales at a car dealership.

“It’s okay to help your family but don’t drop out and ruin your life for that,” he said.

Kacey Rodriguez: Kacey dropped out a year ago when she was a sophomore at Alvarez. She said she’s had a hard life. Her parents divorced when she was 4. And now her dad lives in Salinas while her mom lives in Arizona with her sister. 

As a result she has mental health issues and struggles with depression. She dropped out to work on her dad’s business, loading boxes. But she finally quit — it wasn’t for her — and she moved to Arizona with her mom.

She has now returned to school in hopes of making a better future. 

“What I did was stupid,” she said. “Nobody should do that ever. Manual labor sucks, and I’m gonna finish high school for me.

* This story has been updated to clarify which years the graduation rate was referring to.

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Young Voices Media Project teaches Monterey Bay area teens multimedia skills to report the news from their communities. This project was generously supported in 2019 by the Clare Giannini Fund.