Albuquerque Journal


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Ninth-Graders at Atrisco Heritage Academy High Begin Year at Courthouse

By Jack King
Journal Staff Writer

It seemed fitting that Atrisco Heritage Academy High School ninth-graders were greeted on their first day of school at the front door of the old Bernalillo County Courthouse by a duo of attorneys from the state and national Hispanic Bar associations.

It was an unusual greeting, but then almost everything about the new school, still under construction on the Southwest mesa, is unique. Albuquerque Public Schools' newest high school will focus on small learning centers with a college prep emphasis and support from various segments of the community — like attorneys, for instance.

Denise M. Chanez, a member of the Hispanic National Bar Association, and Christina Vigil, incoming regional president of the Hispanic National Bar Association, joined principal Karen Sanchez-Griego and numerous staffers who lined Tijeras Avenue to cheer and welcome the students as they got off the buses.

Later in a news conference, Chanez, Vigil and Phillip G. Sapien, former president of the New Mexico Hispanic Bar Association, announced they, and their groups' members, were adopting the school.
Along with the Mexican American Law Student Association at the University of New Mexico, the groups are going to work with Atrisco's legal and public affairs academy to encourage more students to enter legal careers.

Sapien said the groups' members, including judges, attorneys and law students, will help design curricula, give guest lectures and mentor students.

Sanchez-Griego said school officials have been meeting with the bar associations all summer to arrange the partnership.

APS superintendent Winston Brooks said the attorneys' involvement will help the school achieve its goal of being a top-flight academic environment.

“We talk about wanting rigor, relevance and relationships in our schools. This is an opportunity for our students to know lawyers, talk to lawyers and understand the legal system,” he said.

Atrisco ninth-grader Sadaf Gulmohammad said she sees the attorneys as role models.

“It was like, this is something like I'd like to be doing someday. I want to be like they are,” she said.
Gulmohammad said other activities she'll engage in at Atrisco will help her in her ambition to become an attorney. There's the mock trial club she plans to join and there's her class “Contemporary Issues,” taught by Kathi Hunter, in which students research and propose solutions to world problems.

Legal and public affairs is one of five academies, or career pathways, students at Atrisco can choose, once they have completed their ninth grade year. The others are international business, health and social services, film and technology, and culinary arts. The academies are not intended to lock a student into a specific career path, but to give him or her insight into what the career is like, and academic courses are integrated into the career-oriented curriculum of each academy, Sanchez-Griego said.

Allyn Lombardi, another Atrisco student, said she is more interested in business or culinary arts, but she does like the idea of the different academies.

“I think it's another way for students to figure out what they want to do after they get out of high school. Most people don't know. This way we can learn, achieve and set goals for when we graduate,” she said.

Fellow student Taylor Wheeler said many other students were just excited.

On Tuesday, the usual mix of fun and apprehension of the first day of high school seemed to prevail. In teacher Dani Scott's Math Lab classroom, students played a wild game of musical chairs as a way of breaking the ice and getting to know each other.

Sanchez-Griego said 501 students had registered at the school by Tuesday. Atrisco's permanent building, at 10800 Dennis Chavez Blvd., is expected to open in October. Atrisco only has a ninth grade this year, but it is expected to have 10th, 11th and 12th grades later, Sanchez-Griego said.

Journal CopyrightCopyright 2008 Albuquerque Journal