By Tony Monfiletto, New Mexico Center for School Leadership
This year, Health Leadership High School graduated their first ever class of students. It's a huge deal for these students and for Health, because the school has helped many of these young people get back on track after dropping out or falling behind in school. A lot of the students never thought they would graduate.
Health's first class of graduates included:
One student in particular stood out from Health's graduating class. Moises earned the nickname "Fire Keeper" on a school sponsored overnight camping trip with his classmates. He made sure the camp fire stayed lit while everyone else slept. That powerful metaphor carries over into almost every aspect of Moises's character.
Moises had the critical ingredients all students needed to succeed: his family loved and supported him, he was ambitious and passionate about his community, and he was an independent thinker. However, the pathway to his success was fraught with challenges. Instead of an asset to be nurtured, he was labeled a defiant and truant teenager and like many of Health's students, he ultimately completed that narrative by dropping out of school. He couldn't cope with sitting in rows, reading from a text book, and doing worksheets. His mind was too active to be force fed facts from inanimate objects.
When he received a postcard in the mail from HLHS, he was working any job he could find to help support his family. Meanwhile, his mom pushed him to go back to school and earn his diploma. The school resonated with her because it was focused on preparing students for a career and it was designed for young people who had dropped out or were off track to graduation. Because classes started later in the morning, he was able to keep his night job.
Learning by Doing and Community Engagement
He enrolled at HLHS as a "reclassified" freshman and the staff helped him find paid internships that allowed him to earn money and invest in his future. He researched, blogged, hosted radio shows, and protested. At one internship, he presented to Congresswoman Lujan Grisham about the power of the internet to lift people out of poverty.
While Moises was enrolled at Health, he was offered a promotion at the restaurant where he worked that would result in more responsibility and more pay, but he would have to work full time during the day. The staff at HLHS knew him well and cared deeply about his success. They helped him move to the school's evening program which let him keep his commitment to help support his family without preventing him from earning his high school diploma at HLHS.
When I asked Moises the most important factor in his success at HLHS, he told me, "I have an equal relationship with my teachers." They were his partners and fellow problem solvers. Like any good partner, they respected him, his circumstance, and most importantly his value as a human being.
The "Fire Keeper" plans to become a nurse. He starts college at Central New Mexico Community College in the Fall and ultimately, he will graduate from the University of New Mexico with a Bachelor's Degree. But Moises was adamant that he doesn't plan to stop there, "I plan to have many careers so that I can keep learning," he says.
For a student like Moises, schools like HLHS are imperative. How many smart and driven students like Moises have fallen off track at traditional schools because they can't respond to the needs of the students they serve? For students like Moises, hands-on learning, community engagement, and staff who truly listen and support can make a huge difference in a student's life. Moises credits the school with changing his life. I like to think he's living proof that it's time to redesign our high schools.
The New Mexico Center for School Leadership is a grantee partner of ECMC Foundation. In 2016, we invested in the intensive professional development of current stakeholders of the Leadership High School Network founded by the NMCSL. This includes school leaders, teachers, board members, and staff. Health Leadership High School is one of the high schools a part of this work. Learn more about NMCSL.