Royal Palm Beach High School Principal Dr. Jesús Armas reported to the Royal Palm Beach Education Advisory Board on Monday, Sept. 13 that his school is dedicated to helping students succeed.
Armas, who has been principal at the school for 12 years, said the school had been teaching about the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
“We talk with our kids a lot about this, and none of them were born,” Armas said. “It’s new to them, and we try to talk to them a bit about what it means, and what we can take from it. I think about the time that followed right after 9/11. Everybody was recovering, and we were all in pain, but at that time, it seemed like everybody came together. We put our differences aside and came together.”
But he said the country is now deeply divided.
“We have a lot of fixing to do in our country. We have a lot of things that are great about it, but we have a lot of things that need to get fixed,” Armas said, explaining that one of the school’s goals is to help restore a unified nation.
“I am hopeful,” he said. “Every Sept. 11, I do a video presentation, and I talk to them about hope, and the hope that they should have for our nation.”
However, education alone cannot give someone hope in the face of adversity.
“Not in high school, only because of the fact that it just doesn’t come naturally,” Armas said. “We can give all the curriculum in the world and still not have the hope that we want our kids to have for themselves.”
He said students on a daily basis have to circumnavigate around racism, anxiety, trauma, bullying and learning challenges in order to achieve success.
“We have to help them get through that, so that they can get to success and, more importantly, they have to be able to see themselves getting to that point, because if they don’t have hope, we have no future,” Armas said.
Royal Palm Beach High School is dedicated to meeting the holistic needs of all students, by a three-tiered system of culture, systems and instruction, he said, explaining that one way of giving students hope is to give them a voice through cultural organizations.
“So many of our kids are so disenfranchised that they have no voice,” Armas said.
The school gives students a voice by providing numerous organizations in which to participate, including service and leadership organizations, scholastic/competitive activities, performance and special interest groups in which they can participate.
He said the presidents of all those organizations meet with him in a presidents’ circle once a month. “I never miss that meeting,” Armas said. “In fact, if I have another meeting that I just can’t get out of, we’ll move the presidents’ circle meeting, so it does not conflict.”
The school has been able to double its counseling department to 12 in recent years, which has helped students tremendously, he said.
At least a dozen graduates of Royal Palm Beach High School are now principals or assistant principals at local schools, he noted. “Those are the types of individuals who are giving hope to our kids,” Armas said.
Other speakers at the meeting included Central Region Superintendent Valerie Zuloaga-Haines, who said that schools and students are struggling to keep up in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our hope is that the pandemic reduces the number of cases rather quickly rather than slowly,” she said. “It is our hope that our students catch up and make sure that our students fill that gap, so we can get them where they need to be much quicker. It’s going to take multiple years to get the students to where they need to be.”
She said some research indicates it will take three to five years to close the learning gap.
“For some of our high school students who are getting ready to graduate in the next two or three years, we don’t have three to five years, so our efforts are ‘all hands on deck,’” Zuloaga-Haines said. “The beautiful thing about it is that our district has made a total commitment to put enough money where it needs to be in supporting our schools and the work that our students need to do to get done.”