As Keila Vargas puts it, she has two babies back at home and countless others at Kensington High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (KCAPA).
Vargas, whose parents are from the Dominican Republic, is the guidance counselor at KCAPA.
While serving the student body as a whole, Vargas feels a special connection with the Latino students who make up 61 percent of the student body.
“When I was in school I didn’t have a guidance counselor that looked like me, sounded like me or that could experience what I’ve been through in my life,” Vargas said.
Being Latina, Vargas can easily relate to with her students on what it’s like being Latino in America.
“I know what it’s like to go home and have a Latino dad who’s very strict or listening to Spanish at home and speaking English at school,” Vargas said. “That’s the best part of my job. I can relate to my kids and hopefully they can relate to me.”
The most rewarding part of her job is being surrounded by Latino people and being able to related to them.
“This is my passion,” Vargas said. “I would do this for free. I am blessed in that way. A lot of people don’t have a job that they would do for free.
With an enrollment of 447 students for this school year, the small size allows the school to function as a tight-knit family away from home.
Vargas was expecting to come into the job, be professional and help the students with their college applications. She wasn’t expecting a new family.
“A lot of them call me mom or auntie,” Vargas said. “We try to give them that vibe here.”
The students are forced to be grown-ups when they go home, while Vargas sees them all as babies.
“They have to be strong, they have to be independent, and they have to put up with a lot of things that you or I don’t have to put up with,” Vargas said. “We try to find an appropriate way to treat them like they’re ours, because no one is going to do that for them when they leave here.”
Ultimately with her connection to the Latino students and the close family environment at the school Vargas hopes to nurture a college-going attitude among students at KCAPA.
As part of a districtwide push, Vargas is attempting to promote continuing education goals within the students. The idea is mentioned often and the students are shown the benefits of a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or doctorate degree.
Through all the ups and downs that KCAPA springs upon students and teachers alike, Vargas is eager to help out the student body and set a positive example for the students.
“Hopefully I help them see someone who looks and sounds like them as an educated person,” Vargas said.
Text, video and images by Oscar Castillo
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