For the Future Students of West County High School

KatieAnn Nguyen

As the 2021-2022 school year comes to an end, there are many things that come to mind when we look back at this school year. Consolidation, new friends, crowded classrooms, COVID-19 outbreaks, walkouts, sit-ins, chalkings, handprints, just to name a few. 

In the last year, we, as students of West County High School, have already lost so much. For some, that meant their prior school campus. For others, that meant their school name. For all of us, that meant almost two entire years of high school. However, despite that pain, that hurt, that loss, we’ve gained so much as well. 

When this school year began, we all knew that it was never destined to be a normal one. We went in with one school campus being shut down and 1600 students all placed onto the other campus. Now, we’re ending this school year with sit-ins, the removal of the Native Sons of thee Golden West (NSGW) plaques, press about our school from KQED, SoCoNews, and the Press Democrat. In a single year, we’ve created something momentous here on this campus. 

And so, as the last couple of weeks of this school year come to a close, here’s a few last words from your resident senior, WCHS Activist, WCHS student. 

I came to Analy High School in 2019, and when I came to this school I didn’t have the faintest idea of what I was getting myself into. For the year that I was a freshman, I spent it quietly, trying to maintain my grades, away from any clubs, away from school board meetings, away from sports games. All I wanted then was to graduate high school with good grades and then get into college. That was freshman year. 

Then COVID-19 hit my sophomore year and online school became this new thing in my life. That constant boredom, anxiety, stress, it’s something I think we can all agree we never want to return to. During that year, the biggest decision that set the catalyst for this year was the WSCUHSD Board of Trustees’ decision in March to consolidate both Analy and El Molino onto the Analy High School campus. That decision set us onto the path for all that this year would bring.

And so, this year began. There were no grand plans for the course of this year, other than graduating of course. Even then, I was planning on not telling anyone I was an early graduate. When this year began, I had no idea it would take me to the places it has. In the middle of college applications, essays, maintaining good grades, and trying to enjoy my last year of high school, the WSCUHSD Board of Trustees made another bombshell decision. On December 1st, 2021, they decided to stop rebranding entirely, to keep the Analy High School name, to forget about West County High School. 

That led to the first walkout on December 2nd, 2021 during 4th period. It was insane, the way we had organized a walkout so quickly in the span of a night. We marched throughout Sebastopol, through the plaza, the Barlow, and back to the school, leading chants along the way. For the pain and hurt both schools had felt, what was revealed above all of that was the community we had built at West County High School. There was strength, unity, friendship amongst all of us. We walked out of class because of this passion we felt for the West County High School name, for the community we had built, for the legacy that began with us. 

And again we walked out on January 14th, 2022. West County High School, this name, it has always been more than a name. It marked reconciliation, a move towards an inclusive school that included students from all areas in our district, it marked growth. Students, instead of staying upset and hurt, came together as one student body. We chose to accept the board’s decision for consolidation and make something great out of it. And we did. The decked out sports events, the combination of both schools’ traditions, the reinvigorated school spirit, the teamwork of students and staff alike, all of that is what the West County High School name represents. It was never just about the name, it was about saving this community, preserving both the histories of Analy and El Molino, and keeping this legacy we began here. 

We stood for this community until the very end, standing for this beginning we had created together. The name may be changing back to Analy High School next year, but in the process, we’ve kept the school colors of red, blue, and gray. This school is worth fighting for, this community of students, teachers, staff, parents, all of it is worth fighting for. We built something this year, creating hope for a brighter future. 

The story of this school and its hardships does not end with rebranding and consolidation though. In April, a racist promposal was spread on social media that read “If I was Black I’d be picking cotton but I’m white so I’m picking you! Prom?” which revealed and brought to light the normalized school culture of racism here. An assembly was organized with student speakers to share their experiences of racism on campus, a sit-in was held, anti-racist shirts were worn, student forums were held, the quad was chalked, handprints were made. But these actions alone do not end racism here at West County High School, they instead start that uncomfortable conversation. They bring attention to these issues and move us in the right direction for a better, more inclusive school. Racism on this campus is not something that can simply go away after an assembly. It takes more than that. It takes years of continued talks and breaking of this stigma that addressing racism is a bad thing. These conversations will be uncomfortable, they will expose a part of our culture that we want to keep hidden, but it needs to happen. These conversations need to continue, they cannot be forgotten, they cannot continue to be brushed aside and ignored. Even today, we are still fighting and we will continue to do so going into future years. 

Staying ignorant is not a luxury that we have, just like with the revelation behind the Natives Sons of the Golden West plaques and the history of that organization. It was revealed that the organization had a history of white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-Japanese activism during WWII. The plaques they had donated to our school during the 1900s reflected values that most likely meant different things to them based on their historic stances. For years, students were unaware of the history behind these plaques and what they symbolized. We don’t have the luxury of ignorance when members of our community are being hurt, when students are being hurt, when it is time for change to happen. 

Through advocating and students speaking out, these plaques were voted 5-0 to be removed at the May 4th, 2022 board meeting and their scheduled date for removal is Saturday, May 21st, 2022. These plaques need to be a teaching moment, a moment for the WSCUHSD Board of Trustees to address why they are being removed in the first place and what they represent. It needs to be a teaching moment for both students and staff, a teaching moment to show that the deep roots of racism and discrimination on this campus need to be addressed. A teaching moment that all of us need to work together to put a stop to racism, that it cannot just be the BIPOC community. We cannot let this be a singular movement run by one group, because if we do, it paints a target on their backs, creates a sense of fear for their own personal safety, and threatens the safe environment they’re supposed to feel at school. It takes all of us to put a stop to racism, and that is a journey that will take longer than just this school year alone.

Each of these events and historic moments that I have described, they represent something more than just history being written for this school. They represent a side to students that not many realize, their strength, their resolve, their ability to come together for the greater good, their solidarity, their voices. In every instance, we have seen students stand alongside each other and be united for a common good. We have seen students want to create change. We have seen a move towards a more inclusive school culture. We have seen the power of this community. 

If there is one thing that should be taken from this school year to the future students of this school, it is that if you find something you’re passionate about, go for it. There are things worth fighting for, things worth standing in the face of adversity for, things worth the blood, sweat, and tears. We found it here this year, in rebranding and then in creating a school culture inclusive of all. Along the way, you’ll find people to stand by you, who’ll support you throughout it all, who’ll be just as passionate as you are. Don’t be afraid to take the first step, because sometimes it takes one to spark a movement. Risks are worth being taken and sometimes they’ll lead you onto a path you didn’t even realize was there. Change cannot happen if we remain silent, and in an ever-adapting world such as ours, change is necessary to happen. 

West County High School, it leaves a bittersweet memory in my heart. Of all the hurt, pain, loss, we went through this year, we’ve created something special in this year. Our solidarity, growth, unity made this school year one for the history books. More than just a school, West County High School became a second home, a second family. 

As this year ends, I say my goodbyes to this school community, but I also welcome the incoming students, the future generations of students that will change this school for the better. I have seen how students can come together, how they can mobilize, how they can stand strong in the face of adversity, how they can stand up for what they believe in, and how they can make a difference in the lives of others. I am glad to have been able to spend a part of my life here. The future looks bright for this school, this year only marked the beginning of it all.