The Lumina Unidos Project announced the launch of West Mesa High School as a Community School at a recent press conference. The Lumina Unidos Project is one of 13 projects in 11 states nationwide selected as a recipient of the Lumina Latino Student Success Grant. They designated West Mesa High School as the Lumina Unidos Project high school.
"We've been waiting for this day for two years. The principal, teachers, parents and students are coming together around the community school concept. Each play a role in your success," announced Jozi De Leon, vice president for the UNM Division of Equity and Inclusion, to the West Mesa ninth graders in attendance. De Leon is principal investigator for the Lumina Unidos Grant. She said, "Unidos, united. This grant is about people, community and institutions working together to provide support for student success. Success strengthens individuals, families and the community."
De Leon said that Rep. Rick Miera has been on board with the project since day one. "He has been fighting for education for New Mexico students in the legislature. "The Community Schools Act is not just a good idea. It's a law," Miera said. The goal of the Community School is for West Mesa High School to operate as a hub within the community and offer wrap-around services to students with an integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement.
Eddie Soto represented Superintendent Winston Brooks. Soto offered his congratulations to West Mesa and to Principal Ben Santistevan for acquiring the Lumina Grant. Soto said, "High school is a beginning to college and career. We are united around the school and have made a commitment to success."
Breaking Bad actor Steven Michael Quezada was in attendance in his role as an Albuquerque Public Schools board member. "I went to West Mesa," he told the students, "community was lacking at West Mesa, but things are starting to change. We want parents to feel as though they are part of the school. We need to close the achievement gap. Work hard to get where you want to be," he said. He added that he worked in gang intervention with YDI. YDI is a part of the community school.
YDI's Frank Mirabal drew out the "Lumina" analogy. "YDI and others will illuminate the pathway for students to go from West Mesa to CNM or UNM," he said.
Phil Bustos, CNM vice president for Student Services, echoed the sentiment, speaking of the need to get more Hispanic students through high school and college. He said, "Dual enrollment gives students the opportunity to get college credit at CNM or UNM while still in high school. It saves time and money."
Individuals from the Albuquerque Public Schools board, New Mexico state legislators and representatives, representatives from both Sen. Heinrich and Sen. Udall's offices, the City Council, the Mayor's Office, the CNM board, UNM, ENLACE and the Unidos Council were also in attendance.
West Mesa High School Principal Ben Santistevan said, “We have already established and conducted events that have been successful regarding parent participation and look forward to improving these services and opportunities for the west side community. This gives us an opportunity to have services right here at our fingertips and allows our students to receive resources right here at their home school.”
By establishing West Mesa as a community school, the Unidos Project leadership aims to improve student learning, strengthen families and develop healthier communities. Community schools offer personalized curriculums that emphasize real-world learning, community problem-solving and makes the school the center of the community by increasing accessibility.
“When students receive the academic and nonacademic support services they need, they will be prepared to more fully engage in their learning and be prepared to go to college,” said Jozi De Leon, vice president for Equity and Inclusion and principal investigator for the Lumina Unidos Grant.
The Unidos Project is built around a “no wrong gate” approach that allows students to flow freely through our educational system, with appropriate support and direction to remain on course, and with minimal barriers to impede their movement. By creating a culture of collaboration across numerous entities, the overall goal of the Unidos Project is to produce 55,000 post-secondary degrees and credentials for Latinos in Bernalillo County by the year 2025, by increasing Latino high school graduation rates, enrolling more Latinos in postsecondary education, and graduating more Latinos from our institutions of higher education.
The Unidos partners include representatives from six key sectors: Albuquerque Public Schools (K-12 education), the University of New Mexico (higher education), Central New Mexico Community College (higher education), the Center for Education Policy Research (higher education), El Centro de la Raza (higher education), the College Board (higher education), Youth Development, Inc. (community-based organization), the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce (employers), ENLACE (community-based and Latino-serving organizations), Innovate+Educate (employers), the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Community Schools Partnership (policy leadership), Partnership for Community Action, Catholic Charities, Encuentro, ABQ GED, Families United for Education and State Representative/NM House Education Committee Chairman Rick Miera (policy leadership).