In a Class by Themselves
In the midst of the noise, accusations and negative publicity that plague Central Falls High School, some students are fighting to rise above the turmoil.
Photography by Dana Smith
The alarm rings at six. Her first class at Central Falls High School doesn’t start for two hours, but Yessica Galdamez is already up. There’s so much to do: a hot shower, a bowl of Lucky Charms, a quick text message to a friend. Should she wear leggings or jeans? The top is never easy, but this morning she settles on the purple striped shirt with three-quarter sleeves. Her long hair, black as coal, takes the most time. She runs a straightening iron through her curls again and again.
On her mirrored dresser and throughout her bedroom sit all the things she treasures: her junior varsity track certificate, stuffed teddy bears, an old Barbie doll in a pink chiffon gown — Glinda the Good Witch. It’s almost time to leave, but first, one last task. With a single spray, the fragrance of Britney Spears’ perfume fills the room.
“Okay then,” says Yessica, buttoning her sweet-scented coat. “Ready.”
The high school is in flux, but this eighteen-year-old senior isn’t. It seems funny, she knows, but the morning grooming routine steels her for a day of chaos: absent teachers, substitutes who can’t control the classroom, kids wreaking havoc in the hallways, reporters staked out along the sidewalk to get the latest details on the “High School in Crisis.”
“If I look good,” Yessica says, “the teachers take me serious.”
She could skip, as she did for a week at the start of the year, when the disruptions got to be too much. But then she remembers she belongs to that special club whose members have never been held back, a willful group determined to graduate in four short years, to “walk on that stage.”
It hasn’t been easy. “I really had a feeling that this year was going to suck,” she says. “Your senior year is supposed to be your best year, but I’m not sure. Every morning I get up and say, ‘Oh, this piece of crap school.’ ”
But she goes.
She goes for her father, a janitor, and her mother, a pizza dough maker, who both left El Salvador to give her what they never had. She goes for her brother, David, who graduated in 2008 and went on to Lincoln Tech to become an electrician. And she goes for herself, because she will be somebody — a chef or a police detective or a teacher for children with special needs.
Can she make it before the school implodes?
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