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Grad Rates on the Rise

Posted: May 5, 2022

Atrisco Heritage Academy, On the Rise

The district's newest comprehensive high school has seen a 10 percent increase in its graduation rate in the past five years. The grad rate for the Class of 2021 was 81.8%.


[ Albuquerque Public Schools Graduation ]

[ APS celebrates an 80.3% graduation rate for the Class of 2021. ]

[ The APS graduation rate has improved for six consecutive years to 80.3%. ]

[ 80.3 percent ]

[ Ten of the district's comprehensive high schools saw improved graduation rates in 2021, as did four of its six magnet schools. ]

- (Irene Sisneros, Principal:) At the end of the day, the goal is to get our kids to graduation because the doors open. So many doors open, not just one door.

[ Atrisco Heritage Academy graduation rate is 81.7%. That is an increase of 3.2%. ]

But once they get their high school diploma the sky's the limit, truly.

[ How was this accomplished? ]

- (Irene:) The options that we're providing students don't just happen at a junior/senior level. They're happening at the freshman level. So we're able to entice and attract them to finishing high school.

[ At AHA, what works for students? ]

- (Irene:) Some of the kids said, I want to be a you know, I wanna be a tattoo artist. I wanna be a truck driver. I wanna be a chef. We have a fantastic culinary program here. So we knew we already had pockets of kids who really wanted to go that path. And so they came up with the idea and they said we wanna invite just, you know as many different career choices to our school and allow kids to see what's out there. And we did that. We agreed and we said, this is what is best for kids. That's been our motto: What's best for kids? What's best for teachers? What's best for our community?

[ What about the basics? ]

- (Irene:) Providing students with their credit obtaining options. So if they were behind in credits we helped them to understand what Summer School meant, what the cost was, how much time it was. We really took more of a personal approach with our students and our families to help them realize, you know, do you work hard right now and finish this particular class? Or do you want to save it for Summer School?

[ How important is communication? ]

- (Irene:) Depending on what the students needs were, we got our family center involved, we got our deans involved, we got our coordinators involved – just to make sure that they had a well supportive team here to be able to make good decisions. We started to take a deep dive when students were transferring in and just overall all student's transcripts. So we had our counselors come in and our registrars. They started to look critically at what students were needing on their transcripts and really started to make sure that if they came in as a new student or as a transfer student we gave them the exact credit or the exact course that they needed to be complete.

[ Dedicated staff. Transcript review. Credit recovery. Personal attention. ]

[ And, non-traditional college & career choices. How can you keep this momentum going? ]

- (Irene:) They are able to not only come to school and be in various programs, but also join clubs, join sports. And we're making it so that they see the positives from being an athlete and being an academic scholar or being in game club, eSports, being in culinary club, being in archery, you know being in various clubs also allow them to connect back into the academic essence of what we do. So it's a, win-win truly.

[ Advice to future graduates? Senior Perspectives. ]

- (Kailey Brown, Senior:) Honestly, like, don't take it for granted, you know – like make friends. Get outta your comfort zone. Like, don't be nervous. Like, 'cause like, if you're nervous, like just think about like all the chances you coulda had. Cause – I kind of wish when I was a freshman I just made more friends and like just talk to people. I don't know why I was so nervous, but ... it goes by fast. And you never know, like, the friends you may make, like, you'll be friends with them forever, you know.

[ Congratulations to Atrisco Heritage Academy, and all graduating seniors! ]

- (Irene:) I just wanna thank, you know, all the educators everywhere that come to work every day and work hard for our students and for each other because it is truly a team. It's a team that works together all the time.

Learn More from AHA's Principal & Students

Graduation rates at Atrisco Heritage Academy High School have been rising, going from about 71 percent in 2018 to nearly 82 percent for the Class of 2021. Principal Irene Cisneros is understandably proud of this accomplishment and shares some details on how it came to be. “We have a really robust family center, dean of students, and coordinators of different areas,” she says. “We tasked them with a list of students who were our highest need, reached out, and were able to bring those students back into the school.”

Identifying & Overcoming Obstacles 

 It took time and effort to find out why the students left the school and what their challenges and barriers were. Once those obstacles were identified, a team of staff members got involved in providing resources and support, making it possible for those students to rejoin their path to graduation.

Senior Kailey Brown was shy as a freshman and experienced some bullying early on. She said those circumstances, coupled with not taking her classes seriously, resulted in her falling behind a bit and needing to attend summer school.

Although Brown started high school with some difficulty, she’s proud of her straight-A finish to her senior year. Resources and support from the teachers and staff at AHA gave Brown the tools and motivation to improve academically, and getting involved with dance helped her to acclimate socially.

“Get out of your comfort zone,” Brown says about her decision to join dance and meet people. “Don’t be nervous. I kind of wish when I was a freshman, I just talked to more people. I don’t know why I was so nervous. The friends you make, you might be friends with them forever.”

Providing Options 

Cisneros says the school started helping new arrivals by looking at their transcripts and matching credits with required APS courses, which sometimes means calling schools in other states to better understand what a particular class was about.

AHA has also been proactive in providing students with options like credit recovery and summer school for obtaining credits to stay on track.

Academy Model 

Cisneros feels that the academy model is another component of the rise in graduation rates, where kids are enticed by receiving a cord or internship at graduation and possibly scholarships that come with career pathways. “The options that we’re providing students don’t just happen at a junior and senior level,” she says. “They’re happening at the freshman level, so we’re able to entice and attract them to finishing high school.”

Those enticements are working, as the numbers clearly show. Cisneros continues, “We’re making it so that they see the positives from being an athlete, and being an academic scholar, or in esports, culinary club, archery—being in various clubs also allows them to connect back into the academic sense of what we do. It’s a win-win, truly.”

An Innovative Approach

When many of the students at AHA weren’t interested in a traditional four-year college pathway, the school responded with an innovative approach. It broadened the diversity of their career fair to include fields like culinary arts, truck driving, and even tattoo artistry. “We saw that it was a need,” Cisneros says, “so over time, as our college and career counselors worked with families and students, that was a theme that kept coming around. We have to work with the times and what’s happening in our communities.”

Do Your Work, Don't Procrastinate! 

Brown is one of the graduating seniors who chose a four-year-college path, looking to get a degree in early childhood education, something she fell in love with while working with young kids at her local community center. Considering her rough start to high school and her straight-A finish, she had the following advice for incoming freshmen:

“Do your work when it’s given. Don’t procrastinate. That’s what I did, and it didn’t end well. I still struggle with it. Time management is very important. Find friends you can study with. Ask for help if you need it. I was so scared to ask for help, but it honestly helped me a lot. My teachers, my counselors, and even Miss Cisneros helped me a lot, too.”

“High school really does go by fast,” she adds. “I can’t believe I’m a senior and graduating. It’s really worth it and just have fun, honestly. Join clubs and get involved. Have fun, and don’t take it for granted.”

“Our teachers have really helped make the difference,” says Principal Cisneros. “I want to thank everybody who works in education because it’s truly a partnership. Whether that’s elementary, middle school, or high school, we all work together. Even though we have different approaches and different goals, at the end of the day, the goal is to get our kids to graduation because so many doors open once they get their high school diploma—the sky is the limit.”