Atrisco Heritage Academy High School

School Principal Promotes Innovative Learning in Albuquerque

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Karen Sanchez-Greigo feels the urgency to reform education in New Mexico.

And she’s doing something about it.

Sanchez-Greigo is principal of the innovative Atrisco Heritage Academy High School on Albuquerque’s southwest mesa.  As such, she is dedicated to the academic success of students from the city’s South Valley, an area where economic and educational challenges are many, and young people have often struggled to stay in school.

“The community is ninety-three percent Hispanic, with one hundred percent of our kids on free and reduced lunch,” Sanchez-Greigo said.  “We are a community where the average income of our parents is about twelve thousand dollars per year.”

“I guess because I grew up in the South Valley, [people] kind of have the attitude that these are South Valley kids {and] they’re not going {to succeed.],” said David Samora, a freshman at Atrisco.  “They don’t have high expectations of us.”

Sanchez-Greigo does, however, and she lets students like David know that every day.

That’s one reason she recently was named among “20 Women Making A Difference” by SAGE, the Albuquerque Journal’s magazine for women.  The award brings recognition to a woman who has created somewhat of an “education renaissance” in her community.

Armed with 11 years of teaching experience and seven years as executive director of ENLACE New Mexico, a W.K. Kellogg Foundation-funded education and community engagement initiative for Latinos, Sanchez-Greigo took over the chief administrative job at Atrisco with the aim of helping students learn practical skills and succeed in life.

A $60,000 Kellogg Foundation grant supports development of school staff and leaders so that they can better serve the vulnerable children that attend the school.   The ultimate goal of the effort is to tackle poverty, improve education and help equalize the playing field for students, their families and the community.

“This high school is the first brand new high school in this community in nearly fifty years,” said Donna Navarrete, a data analyst at Atrisco.  “What we’re trying to do is take a completely different perspective in terms of preparing these kids.”

It’s all about providing students with the learning opportunities they need to compete in the world and make their own dreams become reality, said Sanchez-Greigo.

“They’re all going to college,” she said.  “If they choose not to, that’s up to them, but if they’re ill-prepared from day one when they enter – because we’re just trying to get them through the system and get them out and graduated – then we’re not doing our job.”

In addition to the normal academics, the school offers courses in the practical aspects of finance and the intricacies of film production – among other subjects – so that students develop the skills they need to manage resources and get good-paying jobs.

Atrisco Heritage Academy High School “We were invited to participate as part of a financial academy,” said Sharla Reinhart, vice president for membership development at the New Mexico Educators’ Federal Credit Union.  “I think this offers us an opportunity to put adults and students together in a real-world environment to give them a sense of reality with the world that’s coming toward them and what their role in that world might look like.”

The film academy is operated in conjunction with Albuquerque Studios, a major film production company on the south edge of town, just a few miles from the school.

“They are building a wonderful film academy for the high school,” said Gail Smerigan, vice president for communications at Albuquerque Studios.  “We are consulting with the architect and we are also consulting with curriculum to make sure these kids get a good, practical and useable education.  If this model were to be in every community, I think the kids would flourish so much more.  It really speaks to individuality, which works so well in our business and I believe works well in every business.”

Sanchez-Greigo said that Atrisco Heritage Academy is not your typical high school.

“We’re a community project and I think that we are recognized not only for the work we’re doing for our kids, but for the local community as a whole.  We are a change agent and a reform effort for high schools that are in communities of color and in lower socio-economic areas.  When people say you can’t do this, we say, “Absolutely we can do this” and here’s an example of why.”

Grant Detail

Atrisco Heritage Academy High School

Albuquerque, New Mexico, United States

Support the development of Atrisco Academy High School staff and leadership in serving a population of vulnerable high school children in New Mexico and document the process of development

Feb. 1, 2009 - Jan. 31, 2011

Related Topics

Educated Kids, Community & Civic Engagement, Secure Families, Racial Equity, New Mexico, ENLACE, Featured

Putting Children First

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“Empleen el dinero del modo en que crean conveniente, siempre y cuando promueva la salud, la felicidad y el bienestar de los niños.” - Will Keith Kellogg

“Sèvi ak lajan an jan w vle depi se sante timoun, byennèt timoun ak kè kontan pou timoun w ap ankouraje.” - W.K. Kelòg