A Community of Supporters Saves Program in Santa Fe

Sahra Saedi is a First Year Teaching Fellow at De Vargas Middle School in Santa Fe, NM. 

On the night of Tuesday, April 17th the Santa Fe school board was convened to make a decision that would affect the future of hundreds of middle school students in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The Santa Fe Citizen Schools staff and I packed ourselves into the humid public forum room. Elbow to elbow, we patiently waited for our opportunity to advocate for the Citizen Schools expanded learning program at De Vargas Middle School. Finally, the school board representatives crackled over their microphones alerting our pack of staff and well-wishers that the opportunity to speak on behalf of our vital program had come.

A line formed behind the public forum podium starting with our school’s principal and ending with three of our most supportive parents. The line of champions twisted around the room.

Principal Diane Garcia Piro started off by painting a picture of our school at a tumultuous crossroads until Citizen Schools began to flourish. Garcia talked about how students now look forward to coming to school because they have been given the tools to succeed.

Students  Ruby Lopez, Carlo Quinones, and Suzette Tiscarreno sang the praises of the Citizen Schools program and how it had changed their life. Carlo, fresh off a trip to Washington, D.C. where he, his mother and former Citizen Schools New Mexico Executive Director, Sue Goodwin, endorsed Citizen Schools at our nation’s capital, stepped fearlessly to the microphone with unmatched determination. Carlo described how Citizen Schools had opened his eyes to a world of possibility he would have never otherwise known.

Kathryn Bueller, a De Vargas science teacher, who in the same meeting had been awarded National Teaching Board Certification, proclaimed that “this program (Citizen Schools ELT) should be in every middle school in Santa Fe and across the country!”

Jesus Esparza, a Citizen Schools Teaching Fellow, described his own educational experience growing up in Santa Fe; and his added perspective as a new father has only strengthened his commitment to Citizen Schools and resolve to pursue a career in education.

Returning volunteer Citizen Teachers, Jason Jaacks, Julia Barns, and Alex Gancarz took to the podium espousing everything from hard facts of Citizen Schools’ positive effect on De Vargas’ students to heartwarming moments of triumph in the classroom, declaring the necessity of this program to which they are all so committed.

The public forum portion of the evening concluded with a tearful testimonial from Suzette’s mother, Mrs. Tescarones. Mrs. Tescarones wept as she described Suzette’s education prior to Citizen Schools, previous teachers and administrators had claimed Suzette simply wasn’t intelligent and that her shy behavior was a result of that handicap. When Suzette enrolled in Citizen Schools at De Vargas Middle School as a seventh grader her grades and social parlous began to blossom and grow. Now Suzette is in 8th Grade Academy with a 4.0 and has become an exemplary public speaker from semesters of practice as a translator at the De Vargas WOW showcase. Mrs. Tescarones pleaded with the board to keep Citizen Schools because it saved her daughter’s life and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

The procession of Citizen Schools ambassadors returned to their seats with heads held high, as they were enveloped with applause and congratulations. The evening was concluded by an rousing presentation from the now transitioned Sue Goodwin and De Vargas’ current CD Kendra Engels. Sue and Kendra employed charts, statistics and a sincere documentary made by CT Jason Jaacks to highlight the triumphs Citizen Schools has seen in Santa Fe and nationwide.

When the microphone was finally silent and the school board was given the opportunity to question and comment on the parade of proponents they had been witness to, they could only thank Citizen Schools for its commitment to excellence. Brief, pointed questions were poised to Sue regarding specific data the board would be interested in, but the over-all climate in the room was one of victory. An army of parents, community leaders, volunteers, and Citizen Schools staff had heralded the vital nature of the work we do and the room reverberated with understanding and awe. That evening I believe we all could have flown home on the wings of a community unified in the fight for education reform and a deep commitment to the future of students at De Vargas Middle School.

Check out the advocacy video below created by Volunteer Citizen Teacher, Jason Jaacks!