Community hopes to end negative cycle

San Jose Mercury News

Life has not been easy for Priscilla Camacho, who is from East San Jose. She joined a gang at the age of 14, sold drugs to pay bills and became addicted to crystal methamphetamine."I never got to be kid," Camacho said. She was told by her teachers that she was a piece of garbage and will never get anywhere in life. "One of them told me that he didn't care if I completed my homework because he was going to be getting paid anyway."

Camacho was one of several community members who attended a community meeting on Friday, April 3rd, to ask elected officials to take action to stop East Side Union High Schools' dropout and crime crisis, and economic decline. The elected officials were East Side Union High School District Trustees Manuel Herrera and Eddie Garcia, and Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese. The community asked the officials to make an effort to reduce the drop out rate in East San Jose high schools by ten percent each year and approve funds to provide one additional mental health worker for each high school in the district.

"In East San Jose, 1,311 students dropped out of high school last year," reported community member Amelida Castillo. "That is enough to fill an entire school. The students need counselors to guide them through the difficult times in their lives. "According to People Acting in Community Together (PACT), San Jose lost $34 million in funds due to students who drop out of high school and end up living a life of crime. Each dropout cost society itself $2.1 million throughout his or her lifetime.

The community also asked the officials to support charter schools as an alternative to low-performing large schools in the district.

However, East Side Trustee Eddie Garcia said that though charter schools perform better than other schools in the district, they are not the answer to solving the drop out crisis in the district.

"Charter schools are small," Garcia said. "We need to find ways to meet the needs of 26,000 students. "As for Priscilla Camacho, she is currently attending Apollo High School and plans on attending college to become an electrician. She also plans on going back to visit the teachers that told her she would not succeed in life.

"I want to show them that I succeeded against all odds," Camacho said.

The People Acting in Community Together organization is a multi-ethnic, inter-faith grassroots organization that empowers everyday people to create a more just community.

The organization's volunteers work in partnership with public officials to improve health, education, housing, safety and general well being of people in Santa Clara County. It is a multi-issue and non-partisan organization.

To get involved with People Acting in Community Together, visit their Web site at www.pactsj.org, or call (408) 998-8001.