Feast offers nourishment, respite

It was thanks and more thanks last Friday when the San Antonio High School community celebrated their annual Thanksgiving Feast.

Students and employees queued up for a meal of turkey with all the trimmings, served by teachers and staff. Some special guests also showed up for the holiday repast, including Claremont Unified School District Superintendent Jim Elsasser and other district personnel and administrators, various school board members, San Antonio High School alumni and a few parents.

There is considerable cause for celebration at the local continuation high school, beginning with a new focus on extra-curricular enrichment.

Principal Sean Delgado, currently in his first year at the helm of San Antonio High School (SAH), has instituted the school’s first ASB class in years. The student government course boasts about 25 students and has spurred a boom in new student-led organizations, including a fashion club, a fitness club and a Minecraft club.

“Apparently, the kids were starved to exhibit leadership opportunities,” Mr. Delgado said.

Mr. Delgado has also spearheaded the creation of a new mascot for SAHS, which currently has none, although an oak tree is used as a symbol on various school materials. The mascot will be unveiled in about two weeks and immortalized soon after in a student-created mural.

“I think it really gives kids a sense of identity. A mascot is a symbol they can rally behind, which is really important,” Mr. Delgado said. “It’s a connection to the school that is helpful not just for students but for staff as well.”

Though some students are leery of change, Bruce Pardee, now in his 6th year of teaching construction careers at SAHS, considers such initiatives beneficial.

“I see the ASB as a really good chance for students to participate,” he said. “Before, we had trouble getting kids to come to class. Now, they want to come to school.”

Even as he makes changes, Principal Delgado is careful to respect beloved traditions established long before he came to San Antonio.

“During my introduction to the school, people said, ‘You can change this thing or that, but you’ve got to keep the Thanksgiving Feast,’” he said.

Carla Campbell, who has taught math at San Antonio for eight years, considers the annual commemoration to be invaluable.

“I think a lot of our kids don’t have a tradition like this at home,” she said. “When you talk to them, this kind of family atmosphere is what they really appreciate about San Antonio.”

The food—which included turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, corn, green beans and a slice of pumpkin pie—also drew its share of appreciation.

“I like the meat,” said Seitiny Wyche, who will graduate from SAHS in two years.

But 16-year-old Rachel Ozuna emphasized that the togetherness of the event is what really counts: “It’s good to do this kind of thing where, before, we were all isolated.”

In this vein, Mr. Delgado took a moment to address the crowd, urging attendees to commune with the people who matter, seize today’s opportunities and savor the present.

Two young members of the San Antonio community had died the week before the celebration, making his message all the more poignant.

These included 2013 SAHS graduate Adrianne Deltoro, who died at age 18 in a car accident on November 17, and current adult school student Rausi Neal, who died at age 19 on November 14 after a brief battle with cancer. (Mr. Neal’s family has set up an online donation site at www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/6jh3/rausisfunearlexpenses to help defray funeral costs.)

 “It reminds me that life is short,” Mr. Delgado said. “It reminds me, day by day, to celebrate what’s important. At the end of the day, it comes down to relationships.”

The administrator said he hoped his remarks, coupled with the chance to mingle over a hearty meal, fostered a homey atmosphere for students. Mr. Delgado also shared a bit of his own family life; his 4-year-old son Solomon passed out snack bags filled with cornucopia-shaped Bugles chips, candy corn and other Thanksgiving-themed fare.

Rick Cota, director of food services and of the service center at CUSD, said he looks forward each year to San Antonio’s Thanksgiving Feast.

“It’s a timepiece for me—a segue into the winter,” he explained.

And, indeed, winter seemed to be in sight as guests gathered for the meal at an array of picnic tables. The temperature was New England-nippy and the wind sent the occasional leaf plummeting onto attendees’ plates. A number of students retreated to the warmth of a multi-purpose room, but newly-elected school board member Dave Nemer opted to dine al fresco.

Having worked off and on as a math teacher at San Antonio between 1976 and 2001, 19 years altogether, Mr. Nemer joked that he is qualified to serve as the continuation school’s historian. He pointed out that every student at San Antonio is playing a game of catch-up, striving to finish enough coursework to get a high school diploma.

That makes for a good deal of pressure, and so the holiday atmosphere of the Thanksgiving Feast is particularly welcome.

“Some students are doing exactly what they need to do and some are not, but the teachers are doing everything they can to help them come along,” he said.  “This is a relaxed day, except for the people who have to prepare the meal. Everyone gets to calm down.”

—Sarah Torribio



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