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Broken promises: A day in the life of a Simon Sanchez student



 By Rubyjayne Buhain-Redila

 

Gavin Borja’s alarm clock blares, jolting him awake from a restless sleep. Bleary-eyed, he glances at the clock—it’s already 5 a.m. He rolls out of bed, his mind still foggy from the late-night study session that stretched into the early hours of the morning.

 

Another day begins with exhaustion. No time for breakfast; he can’t afford to be late for work. By 11:30 a.m., he clocks out of his part-time job and hitches a ride with his friend. Sometimes he walks, but he gets there.


Borja, a senior at Simon Sanchez High School, provides a glimpse into a day

in his life, filled with the struggles and challenges of sharing the halls and facilities with John F. Kennedy High School. The constant shuffle and the sense of displacement are ever-present and experienced by roughly 1,700 SSHS students.


Located in Yigo, Simon Sanchez High School opened as a middle school in 1974 and became a high school in 1981 to serve northeastern Guam.


The school’s dilapidated infrastructure had long been a source of concern, with its facilities hindering a full high school experience for students.


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Since 2010, the Yigo campus has been shut down several times due to unresolved health and safety violations, including roof leaks, stained tiles and sanitary supplies, among others. The condition worsened in the succeeding years, despite several bills that have been enacted to fix the campus. Typhoon Mawar, which hit Guam in May 2023, caused extensive damage that rendered the campus unusable and beyond repair.


Simon Sanchez High School is the epitome of failure in education. It is a staple of Guam politics and the paragon of broken campaign promises.


The Calvo-Tenorio administration announced plans to rebuild a new Simon Sanchez campus in 2013. It sparked optimism among the northern community, but little did they anticipate the difficult journey ahead. Today, the campus is mired in decay and closed for good. There is no new construction in sight.


Borja has been walking the JFK halls since the start of the school year. He’ll be graduating soon and he still feels out of place. “It’s terrible, we have so many limitations, and clubs can't raise as much money in school,” he said. “Even something as simple as decorating a classroom is hard because teachers share rooms, so every class looks the same. It gives you no motivation or drive, especially because we don’t have our own gym or cafeteria to host an event.”


With the closure of the northern campus, both JFK and Simon Sanchez students face the challenge of adjusting to altered schedules. JFK students start their classes at 6 a.m. and finish by 11 a.m., making way for Simon Sanchez students to begin classes at noon and conclude at 5 p.m. This full occupancy from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. leaves little room for extracurricular activities on campus.


Borja persists in pushing through as he faces these challenges, yet it is a daunting task for his final year in high school. "I wake up at 5 a.m. and sometimes don’t get home until after dinner due to (Guam Department of Education) rehearsals and my video classes. I come home around 10 p.m., and while everyone is already in bed, I stay up to do homework."


His commute has also drastically increased from what was once a two-minute drive to now over 35 minutes. 


The double session schedule imposed on both schools has caused adverse effects on its students, sparking violence on the JFK campus, with students involved in riots at the Tamuning school.


The $100 million project encountered roadblocks, as politicians and government agencies sparred over where to direct resources while addressing procurement failures. After the issuance of a request for a proposal for the project’s construction manager, a successful protest by CoreTech that began in 2017 ensued, stopping the entire process and leaving students and staff to navigate the consequences of inaction by the government.


In 2023, the legislature passed Bill 94-37, which would streamline the procurement process for the Guam Department of Education and the Department of Public Works, aiming to expedite the new construction project. The bill is authored by Sen. Roy Quinata, who was a student at SSHS when the project was incepted.


However, Attorney General Doug Moylan withdrew his representation from 22 government agencies due to alleged unethical practices by the agencies. This move has prevented GDOE from securing necessary procurements for the construction, as only the AG can authorize bids over $500,000. The feud between the governor and the AG further complicates an already contentious situation for the state of Simon Sanchez.


At a recent townhall meeting, Sen. Chris Barnett took to the mic and engaged the audience, calling for more accountability and action from the governor. This ignited a fiery exchange with Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero that reverberated throughout the JFK gym. Students who were holding protest signs cheered on Barnett. 


Simon Sanchez students have been caught in the crossfire of politics. The fiery political rhetoric overshadowed the urgent need for a solution.


At the town hall, students held signs that read: “Broken school, broken promises.”


Sens. Joe S. San Agustin and Roy A. B. Quinata have proposed a temporary solution to build a provisional Simon Sanchez High School near the original campus in Yigo with the help of the Guam Housing Corp. This temporary location, situated across from F.B. Leon Guerrero Middle School, would enable Simon Sanchez students to leave the double session arrangement at JFK for now.


As Borja concludes his last year in high school, his story echoes the broader struggles faced by the community, highlighting the urgent need for a permanent solution. Until then, the dream of a revitalized Simon Sanchez High School remains a dream.

 



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