College Prep

 

Walatowa High School emphasizes college prep

Walatowa High School (WHS) at Jemez Pueblo is one of only two Native American charter schools in New Mexico located on tribal land. Also at Jemez is San Diego Riverside Charter School, serving grades K-8 since 1999. All fifty-two students in grades nine through twelve, except one, are Native American. Tribal, educational, and community leaders worked collaboratively to create a school with a rigorous, interdisciplinary college preparatory curriculum that emphasizes math, science, health, and state-of-the-art technology. The aim is to make education compelling, challenging, and culturally congruent so that increasing numbers of Native American students graduate from high school and go on to college. The school has attracted a lot of buzz in its five-year history.

A key component of every Walatowa student’s educational experience is community service. All students who qualify learn and study abroad. Ninth-grade students spend a week in Washington, DC learning about government and the special role of tribal sovereignty. Sophomores spend one to two weeks in Mexico learning about indigenous peoples. Junior students travel to India for three weeks to learn about the culture and its people. Senior students spend eight weeks in New Zealand and Australia learning about the Maori tribes. While traveling, students reside in the homes of local people, and participate with them in cultural activities. The studies abroad are intended to provide students with a world perspective of how non-native world cultures relate to them and how they solve problems in their communities and cultures. This travel is supported by fundraising and tribal monies.

All students participate in community internships. In the eleventh grade, students conduct in-depth research on one issue of critical importance to Jemez Pueblo, such as health and wellness needs, community infrastructure, agriculture, tourism, the arts, preschool children, etc. In their senior year at WHS, students must determine a series of critical questions, and design and present a PowerPoint presentation to share their understanding of the issues they have researched in relation to the pueblo’s sovereignty and self-determination. They are expected to draw from the knowledge of tribal and world leaders.

Student enrollment has been steadily increasing each year. Walatowa High graduated six senior students in May 2007. These students completed the first four-year cycle at the school, and all of them are currently enrolled in post-secondary education (New Mexico State University, University of Colorado and Central New Mexico Community College). This is a fifty-percent increase in post-secondary enrollment over the 2006 class.

WHS was selected as one of twelve national sites for an early college high school by the Center for Native Education in Seattle. Walatowa partners with the University of New Mexico’s Native American Studies Department so that Native students can earn up to two years of college credit while still in high school. In the 2006-07 school year, this partnership resulted in the ability of eleven WHS students to compete for scholarships for a year-long course to increase the number of Native American students in computer science. This effort involved staff from Boston University funded by the National Science Foundation. The governing board of the school aggressively targets grants and foundation funding to support the goal of increasing the number of Native students who graduate and go on to college.

Presently, the charter high school occupies three new modular buildings that are adjacent to the Community Youth Center. The units are leased with funding assistance provided through the New Mexico Public School Capital Outlay Council. The Youth Center supports basketball, volleyball and other indoor sports, native dancing, and a variety of other leadership activities. The center is flanked by baseball fields, and the magnificent red hills of Jemez Pueblo provide a backdrop for track and field activities. However, a permanent building remains the dream of Principal Tony Archuleta, a veteran New Mexico administrator with thirty-eight years of experience in education. He shared that the tribal council is developing a planning and design proposal to present to the New Mexico legislature for a new high school for Jemez Pueblo. “We need a permanent and appropriate building for these students to excel and meet their educational goals.”

The school staff exceeds the standards for highly qualified teachers in New Mexico. The Assistant Principal/Athletic Director is a Native American who holds a Ph.D. and was a former New York Yankees baseball player. Instructors include a lawyer teaching math, a former college webmaster in charge of technology education and support, a former employee of National Geographic teaching science, a retired University of Oklahoma art teacher, a curriculum coordinator who was a private school educator, and a tenured administrator coordinating Special Education services. Volunteers support science and health instruction. Every teacher serves as a counselor to students. Parents sign a contract agreeing to support their child’s academic achievement and attendance.

College Prep