Q&A with Dan Zaragoza

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Dan Zaragoza

photo by Cassandra Vinograd

Dan Zaragoza

Problems with violence and discipline are nothing new at Kennedy High, says senior Dan Zaragoza, who participated in last month’s student-led protest for better security at the Garfield Ridge school. This year’s freshmen, including transfer students from the attendance areas of schools that closed, were especially disrespectful and unruly, he says. Zaragoza, vice-president of student government, talked with writer Cassie del Pilar.

There was a lot of press coverage of the protest. How was it organized?

By a student. She, I guess like most of the students here, was just fed up with all of the crap that’s going on. She came to groups of kids saying, “Let’s try to meet in front of the school on this day to do a protest.” It got spread by word of mouth.

Since the protest, has there been a change in the administration?

Oh, yeah.

How?

The protest was to get the School Board’s attention, which we did because the next day, a few board members came to school and wanted to meet with student leaders. They have been coming since the incident, talking to us, trying to [coordinate] a student development team.

One of the things that a lot of students said was that they feel they need more outlets, more clubs or more classes. [Principal James] Gorecki said to us, “If you guys have any ideas for clubs or classes or anything, just tell me and I’ll look into it and try to get it for you.”

Which do you think is more effective: security guards who are friendly and can relate to students or who are strictly authority figures?

Strictly security guard figures. You can’t be too friendly with kids. Otherwise they’re going to feel like they’re going to get away with stuff. You don’t want some stiff guy, but then again, you don’t want them [saying], “Hey buddy, what’s up?” That way freshmen and sophomores will know these guys really mean business.

Some people believe that to decrease violence, teens need better counseling and better relationships with adults.

Yeah, kids are always going to need their parents, other adults. We have counselors, but they’re busy a lot. Students know they can talk to teachers—if you have a teacher whose class you like.

What else needs to be done?

I tell my little brother, who is a freshman, that we actually need more student involvement. Mr. Gorecki tried to hold a parent forum, so parents could come in and ask questions about anything. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out like that. More or less it was the parents coming up, yelling, saying, “Why don’t you do this, why don’t you do that?” Honestly, I thought the parents were ruder than any student.

[I got up and] told parents, “Go home, tell your kids, ‘If you see something wrong, go say something. If you see a kid smoking in the bathroom, go to security and they will do something about it.'” I try to do that every day, because I don’t want to come out of the bathroom with my clothes smelling like smoke.

I know the parents wanted something right away. It’s going to take time. I can quote Gorecki saying 90 percent of the kids are good and then there’s that 10 percent that screws it up for everybody else. That 90 percent has to speak up.

Anything else you want to add?

Just that our school has gotten a lot of bad press, but the newspapers failed to mention that last year’s juniors raised [Prairie State Achievement Exam] scores. Last year we were on academic probation and they pushed us to raise them, and we did. And unfortunately, they don’t report that the students say Mr. Gorecki is doing his job. The whole thing is going to take time, with not only teachers and the principal and the Board involved, but the students too. All four of those are factors that you need to make something better.