No one ever said life at an inner-city school would be easy, but Kensington High School for the Creative and Performing Arts has managed to overcome many obstacles to provide its students with an education that they can build on.
Kensington High School CAPA, as it is often called, boasts a 62.2 percent graduation rate according to greatphillyschools.com, despite being located in one of the city’s roughest neighborhoods.
The school is made up of students of all races, but it is majority Latino at just under 62 percent according to the School District of Philadelphia. While everyone at the school shares English as a common language, the hallways of the school can be heard echoing with Spanish chatter at almost any time of the day.
The Kensington High School CAPA staff, like many of the other Philadelphia schools, has combated some extensive budget cuts in recent years. Teachers and administrators have been laid off every year as part of the more than $1 million in budget cuts the school has seen over the past four years.
The remaining staff members have been forced to fill several roles for the students as a result, often playing counselor, teacher and supervisor on any given day.
One of the school’s guidance counselors, Keila Vargas, tries to look at the situation for the more positive results that have become of it.
“The budget cuts have been hard and I’ve had to say goodbye to several staff members who became good friends of mine. But, the cuts have brought the kids closer to the remaining staff, and the staff has really been there for the kids. Many of the teachers stay for several hours after school to provide programs for the kids to learn and a place where they can stay out of trouble. In a way, our school has become a tighter community through the adversity we have faced.”
Budget cuts are not the only problem plaguing Kensington High School CAPA. Many of the students’ parents have fallen victim to drug addiction and abuse. Sadly, the negative effects of the neighborhood often trickle down to the students as well. Kensington CAPA’s staff works every day to impress upon their students that they don’t have to fall into the same trap.
Vargas says that the teachers and counselors constantly urge their students to consider a college education on the way to a life outside of the tough inner city. She said their nagging has made a huge difference in the school’s college enrollment, but their problems do not end there.
“The number of our seniors who have been accepted and enrolled in college has skyrocketed over the past few years. The problem has been keeping them in. Once they get there, they have trouble focusing and adapting to a new lifestyle, and many of them drop out soon after getting there. That is our next challenge, to keep them there for all four years and have them leave with a degree.”
The school might be closer to this goal than they think. Kiaralynn Garcia, a junior at Kensington High CAPA, credits the school’s staff for her setting her education goals no lower than a college degree.
“Since the first day that I got here (Kensington High), Ms. Vargas and my teachers haven’t let a week go by without reminding me about my plans to go to college. I’m not exactly sure what I want to do yet, but I’m looking forward to going to college soon and starting a career that I will be happy with.”
Keila Vargas and her staff are constantly working to make this mentality one that will stick with all of their students in the future.
– Text, Images and Video by Ross DiMattei