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In California, Some Students Rethink Dropping Out

Santa Barbara High School covers 40 acres in tree-lined hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a few miles away. The Spanish-style main buildings date from the mid-1920s, and when the doors are closed, you could be forgiven for thinking not much has changed.

But when the bell rings, students clad in the latest fashions quickly fill the open spaces. Girls wear fitted shirts and skinny jeans; boys often sport baggy jeans that defy gravity. And when you hear their voices and their stories, you know we’re well into the 21st century.

Santa Barbara High School, however, is not immune to poverty, violence, dropouts or any of the other ills that plague most schools. And it is here that Victor Rios has come to share his story and study the achievement gap.

Rios, a onetime gang member and dropout himself, earned a Ph.D. and has become a sociologist. He appears on campus regularly, and has shared his story with dozens of students.

Many, including Joseph Castro and Brandon Smith, admit to rethinking their lives after hearing how dramatically Rios turned his life around.

Several girls here told us that his story resonated with them as well. We found four seniors who have been through tough times — and considered dropping out. But Patricia Castillo, Meliza Palacios, Jennifer Gutierrez and Liliana Casian each say they’ve decided to stay in school, and all of them now have plans for the future.

American Graduate is a public media initiative focused on the high school dropout problem.

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