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News from 2021-2022

Posted: November 29, 2021

AHA Choices Include Navajo Language and Culture

The unique class at Atrisco Heritage Academy includes field trips, mock trials, art shows, cooking and catering, performances, and a recent fashion show.

Note: Staff who support New Mexico lawmakers visited schools as they prepared for the 2022 legislative session. We are featuring some of the APS schools and programs they learned about.

Atrisco Heritage Academy High School in southwest Albuquerque is committed to supporting student success. A big part of that is achieved through diverse course options that keep students and their families engaged.

“That’s really how we operate around here,” says AHA Principal Irene Cisneros. “There are always conversations around what is best for students and what do we need to help them get to post-secondary success.”

Students can choose from a wide range of offerings that include culinary arts, legal studies, ethnic studies, career development clubs, and programs community parents asked for, such as mariachi and baile folklórico, that pack the school’s performing arts center for performances.

Atrisco Heritage is also the only local school that currently has a full-time Navajo Language and Culture instructor. “The students love the fact that there’s a Native classroom,” says Mildred Chiquito, the class’s teacher, “because I don’t just teach the language. I teach the whole culture. A lot of the kids’ families have moved to the city for work, and the kids have become a little disconnected from the cultural part. It opens a lot of cultural connection back to their homeland.”

Chiquito commutes nearly two hours each way from her home on the Navajo reservation to bring her language and culture to her classroom daily. “I’m living it every day, and I’m bringing in my Indigenous values, my Native teachings,” she says. “The kids want to know. They’re very curious and want to learn. They work together, and they help each other, and when they see it in a school setting, they feel a little more comfortable.”

Chiquito’s students are enthusiastic about taking part in cultural activities and field trips, and sometimes her former students come back to help and present to the class. AHA’s Navajo Language and Culture class currently has Navajo and Pueblo students but is open to anyone who wants to learn. A recent outdoor fashion show during lunch (watch the video below) allowed the class to share their culture with the rest of the school. The class explained the meaning and significance behind many of the styles and articles of clothing, while special guest Autumn Montoya, Miss Indian New Mexico 2021, emceed.

Filed trips, and other activities such as mock trials, art shows, cooking and catering, and performances that occur outside of the traditional classroom setting, are a key component to keeping students interested in the types of educational and occupational options available to them after high school.

“A lot of activities are happening outside of the classroom. It’s really about asking ourselves about how we engage our students in learning, so it’s a place they want to be,” says Jessica Cano, teacher and bilingual coordinator.

Leadership and community involvement are also integral characteristics at the school, illustrated in part by AHA having both a teacher and a student serving as board members for the Valle del Oro National Wildlife Refuge.

The diverse offering of classes, activities, and opportunities has contributed to AHA’s students reaching graduation and post-graduation success. Dr. Antonio Gonzales, Associate Superintendent for Leadership and Learning for Zone 2, says, “Atrisco Heritage can boast that, pre-pandemic, it was the largest individual feeder to the University of New Mexico—the largest flagship university in the state— on an annual basis for at least a couple of years. That’s out of any public or private institution in New Mexico or out of the state.”

Dedication to student success is evident throughout the faculty and staff. “As long as you’re here, you’re my kids,” Chiquito tells her students. “I’m here to help you succeed, and I’ll do anything I can to help you where you’re at.”

Navajo Language and Culture is just one of the options available to APS students. Other Native American Programs include Native American Government and Economics, Navajo Government and History, Reading and Math Intervention, Navajo and Zuni Languages, Distinguished Stoles and Seals Award, and the Graduation Credit Recovery Program.

To learn more about Native American Programs, visit the APS Indian Education website.

Video: Atrisco Heritage Academy Native American Fashion Show