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Grad Rates on the Rise

Posted: May 5, 2022

Volcano Vista High School, On the Rise

The graduation rate for Volcano Vista High School, one of the state's largest schools, was 84.5 percent for the Class of 2021.

Transcript

[ 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. ]

[ 80.3 percent ]

[ Volcano Vista High School graduation rate is 84.5% for the last two years! ]

[ How was this accomplished? ]

- (Angela Korte, Senior:) The support network here has been amazing.

- (George Woods, Activities Director:) People talk about how kids have changed over time. And I don't think really that's the case. I think, you know, the grownups change, the expectations change, and as the expectations have risen so the graduation rates, and the kids have really just risen to the occasion.

- (Melissa Sedillo, Principal:) The staff is very pro-student and they have participated in professional development, cultural awareness. We focused on the whole student, you know, social emotional wellbeing, especially coming back from COVID. So I think the staff has just really taken each student at their own pace and really reached out and made sure that they were receiving the supports that they needed.

[ At VVHS, what works for students? ]

- (George:) We've all got different tricks up our sleeves but trying to make sure that there's some kind of event every six weeks that the students can participate in – at least. Whether it's a Spirit Week, maybe it's an assembly, maybe it's a class competition, maybe it's a social media challenge that we do just to keep kids engaged.

[ What about the basics? ]

-(Ed:) We've got, you know, the best staff, best faculty in the state. They show up every day for the kids and their heart's in it.

[ How important is communication? ]

- (Melissa:) We have put up QR codes throughout the building for students to report any suspicious behavior, um, you know, cause anything that's happening is in their world. And so for us to find out about it to be proactive and address it, we need to hear from them. And so we found that by placing the QR codes throughout the building it has given them a voice to share any sort of concerns that they have that we can address right away.

[ Dedicated staff. Advisory. Cultural awareness. Personal attention. ]

[ And fun activities! How can you keep this momentum going? ]

- (Melissa:) One of the things that we're gonna do for next year is we're going to realign our collaborations. And so that departments are working together within you know, content, and they're also doing some vertical articulation within the department. And we're gonna continue our professional development around cultural awareness and reflective practices. And so yeah, I think all of those pieces continuing with the advisory and the social emotional piece for our students and meeting their needs.

[ Any advice to future graduates? ]

- (Angela:) It's taking advantage of the opportunities that we have here, you know, that's how you make the most of your experience. Don't be afraid to ask for help, you know, there's tons of people here who are willing to help you. Whether it's like a friend or a teacher or even like an administrator, you know, there's always a way. Don't tell yourself no before you ask a question too, you know, you'll be surprised like, you know, what doors open for you if you're not afraid to ask questions and ask for help.

- (Carlos Tenorio, Senior:) It's that keep going. It's it's gonna be rough. High school's not all sunshines and rainbows when it comes to things. Your junior year is probably gonna be your hardest one, but it's that keeping going, that motivation your teachers are here. We have such a wonderful staff and administration here that's always willing to work with you. You know, I've been fortunate to have my teachers that have worked with me helping me through grades, tutoring, coming in early, staying late with me to help me go through grades. So it's asking for help.

[ Congratulations to Volcano Vista High School and all graduating seniors! ]

- (Melissa:) Our students will start new chapters in their lives after graduation and hopefully they won't forget where they came from and share in their celebrations.

- (Angela:) I'm just really proud of us.

Learn More from Volcano Vista's Staff & Students 

With nearly 2,300 students, Volcano Vista has one of the largest enrollments in APS. Despite its size, the school has maintained a high graduation rate and contributed to the 10-year peak in the district’s overall graduation rate. At 84.5 percent, Volcano Vista's graduation rate surpasses the district rate (including charter schools) by about nine percentage points. Clubs, activities, and sports are part of the model that maintains a higher graduation rate at the largest school.

Student Accountability

“They’re pushing us but also making sure we’re having fun in high school,” says senior Carlos Tenorio. “Because if it's just work, work, work, we’re going to get burnt out sooner or later. But they have that perfect balance of work and making sure you’re having fun so that you really enjoy the high school experience.”

George Woods, Volcano Vista’s activities director, says the fun and involvement are part of the strategy. “I think high school activities add another level of accountability to students, accountability to their grades, accountability to their peers, and to their faculty advisors to stay the course.”

Students must maintain their grades and avoid disciplinary actions to participate in sports, clubs, and other activities. Raising the bar for student performance both academically and socially has proven beneficial. “People talk about how kids change. I don’t think they do,” Woods says. “We change, and sometimes our expectations change for our kids, and as expectations have increased, kids have risen to the occasion.”

A Focus on the Whole Student

The school has raised more than its expectations for students—it has also raised expectations of itself for how it can serve the needs of its students. Faculty and staff have continued professional development around cultural awareness and reflective practices. They have QR codes posted throughout campus for students to anonymously report suspicious behavior or access resources for barriers such as mental health issues and food insecurity without fear of embarrassment or stigma.

Pro-Student Staff

“The staff is very pro-student,” says Principal Melissa Sedillo. “We focus on the whole student, their social-emotional well-being—especially coming back from COVID, so I think the staff has really taken each student at their own pace and really reached out and made sure that they were receiving the supports they needed to be successful.”

Learning to Ask Questions

“There are tons of people here who are willing to help you,” says Angela Korte, another graduating senior. “Don’t tell yourself ‘no’ before you ask yourself a question. You’ll be surprised what doors open for you if you’re not afraid to ask questions and ask for help.”

“We have such a wonderful staff and administration that’s always willing to work with you,” Tenorio adds. “I’ve been fortunate to have my teachers that have worked with me, helping me through grades, tutoring, coming in early, and staying late with me to help me go through grades.”

Guidance & Support 

Sedillo says examining the graduation goal is part of every 90-day plan. “Sometimes that’s addressing the Ds and Fs,” she says, “bringing those students in and having them talk to administrators and counselors, and continuing with the social and emotional support happening through advisory—all of those pieces we’re hoping will continue to impact our graduation rate in a positive way.”

A rising graduation rate has more than a legacy for the school district. It is also part of the legacy of individual students and families, something that Tenorio takes to heart. “My family has been in New Mexico since the 1500s,” he says, “and I’ll be the first one to attend a flagship university in my entire family history. Allowing me to grow into what I want to become in the future, the school has really allowed me to do that.”

Setting a Good Example

Tenorio, like Principal Sedillo, hopes the rising graduation rate sets a good example for incoming freshmen, like his younger sister who will attend Volcano Vista in the fall.

“I think that puts on the pressure for the younger students to reach that bar or exceed it,” Sedillo says, “so I think it’s a positive pressure for the younger students, something to look up to and to reach for.”

“It’s exciting. I’m really proud of us,” Korte says of her class’s role in raising the graduation rate, even in light of the COVID-19 disruption. “I’m really proud that we’ve continued the trend. It’s really great to be a part of. We’re stronger than any obstacle you can throw at us.”