It has been more than two months since Cindi Santana, 17, was fatally stabbed late September at . Her ex-boyfriend, Abraham Lopez, 18, stands accused of first-degree murder after allegedly stabbing her during lunchtime in front of several students and faculty.
The school is still coping with the aftermath of that sad day, but some students have come up with a way of bringing an end to this tragic chapter in a positive way.
“We have decided to do something that brings closure to this event,” said Jennifer Gonzalez, a South East High senior.
After brainstorming for a few weeks, students belonging to the Youth Advisory Board of the Woodcraft Rangers, a student-led, after-school organization that includes civic involvement among its activities, decided a series of workshops to educate teens on non-abusive relationships was the best way to prevent a repeat of the killing.
“The purpose is to create awareness on teen-dating violence, so that we can prevent it,” said Ashley Davila, a senior at South East High. “[And] have teenagers who are in a violent relationship know that there are people who can help them.”
The students spent several weeks training with staff from the East Los Angeles Women’s Center to become certified peer counselors on teen-dating violence.
This certification allows students to be completely in charge of teaching the workshops, something that they believe will enhance the effectiveness of the seminars.
“Students can relate to other students teaching them about this,” said Patrick O’Connell, a South East High senior, “rather than an adult, which is more uncomfortable.”
The four student-run workshops will kick off Jan. 11 and will cover various aspects of teen relationships, such as communication, types of abuse, and tips on identifying a healthy relationship as well as self-defense and self-esteem.
Students will educate their peers on the complexities of relationships. For example, oversimplifying what it means to be abused will be challenged at one of the workshops.
“You can be abused verbally, mentally and emotionally,” said Gonzalez, who thinks identifying abuse is one of the most important keys to prevention. “Many people believe that you are being abused only when you have bruises.”
Other workshops will focus on giving students practical tools to use when analyzing their connections with others, including how to spot the signs of an abusive relationship.
“Many teen girls, for example, are already in a relationship, and they are blinded by love and the things their boyfriends are giving them,” said Cynthia Reyes, a South East High senior. “Sometimes, in reality, they are doing these things to manipulate; these are some of the things we learned at the workshop.”
The student workshops will culminate with “Prince and Princess Day” on Feb. 8. It is a celebration of what male-female relationships should be like and will also serve as a final event to honor Cindi Santana. Girls will wear their Quinceañera dresses to illustrate they are kind and respectful ladies. Boys will suit up to symbolize they are respectful and forgiving gentlemen.
The City Council has also designated Feb. 8 as “Prince and Princess Day” for the entire city of South Gate.
The students are extending their efforts to prevent teen relationship violence beyond their school walls. They hope to embark on an expansion of their students workshops to other schools in the area.
“We hope we can make this into a packet and give it to other schools,” said Maribel Diaz, a junior at South East High. The students hope the packets will more effectively spread their message.
They are also hoping to obtain a grant to build a women’s shelter that would provide help to abused women in South Gate.
O’Connell said the students' goal is to get the attention of the community, but also acquire a block grant from the Los Angeles County Community Development Commission. “We don’t want this to happen again in our city, so we want there to be help here,” he said.
All council members have supported the work of the students and promised to help them in whatever way they can. That was a promise reiterated by Mayor Maria Davila as she stopped by to see her daughter, Ashley, one afternoon.
“I am very honored to have kids in my city that have this mentality,” said Mayor Davila. “We as city officials are here to support them 100 percent.”