Siembra Leadership High School Breaking Molds(1)

How Siembra Leadership High is Breaking the Mold of Traditional School

How Siembra Leadership High is Breaking the Mold of Traditional School

By Henry Rael, McCune Charitable Foundation of New Mexico | April 12, 2018

“We know that traditional ways of “doing school” just don’t work for a lot of the kids in our City and Siembra is developing a distinct alternative that puts core capacities at the center of what we want to see in our young people, including a distinct relationship with the community in which they live and will build their lives. “
“We know that traditional ways of “doing school” just don’t work for a lot of the kids in our City and Siembra is developing a distinct alternative that puts core capacities at the center of what we want to see in our young people, including a distinct relationship with the community in which they live and will build their lives.”
 
“We know that traditional ways of “doing school” just don’t work for a lot of the kids in our City and Siembra is developing a distinct alternative that puts core capacities at the center of what we want to see in our young people, including a distinct relationship with the community in which they live and will build their lives. “

When I returned to New Mexico in 2002 after living and working in Los Angeles for 8 years, I knew that I wanted to find ways to apply what I had learned (and continued to learn) in my private sector career to support community-oriented efforts back home in Albuquerque. When I left in 1994, I represented a long line of people in my family who hadn’t left the state, going back to when my earliest ancestors arrived here in the late 1600’s. But this place was in my DNA and once I started having children, I knew I had to return and see what I could do to help build a healthier city with more opportunity for our young people.

One way that I have been able to contribute has been by participating in design sessions for a couple of different schools, namely Technology Leadership High School and Siembra Leadership High School. These schools were being designed to use technology and entrepreneurship as frames supporting project-based learning and student support to create new and unique educational opportunities. Although I didn’t know very much about education, and admittedly, I was never the best student during my time in middle and high school), I did know a thing or two about business, technology and start-ups. Through other volunteer work I had done since returning to New Mexico, I had also learned a lot about the power of culture, the challenge of class and the on-going barriers that low-income people from marginalized communities face in trying to build wealth and stability for their families.

Today, I work for the McCune Charitable Foundation of New Mexico, one of the largest private family foundations making grants exclusively in New Mexico. My participation in the school design sessions was well aligned with the mission of the Foundation, which seeks to support the intersections between different program areas. The intersection between “Education Transformation” and “Economic Development and Family Asset Building” is where these schools and their design reside.

More recently, I was able to participate in a “Deep Dive” session at Siembra, brought together with a number of other community members with relevant experience, to evaluate current conditions at the school and make recommendations about how it might develop and improve going forward. Working together with experts in education, community development and other sectors, we were able to provide actionable recommendations that focused on what the school has been doing well and how those assets could be leveraged to improve. The session was similar to other work I’ve done in other parts of the non-profit ecosystem in Albuquerque, including the “Molino Project,” which brings together leaders in economic development to constantly improve our entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The session also helped remind me why the school is important to the community. We know that traditional ways of “doing school” just don’t work for a lot of the kids in our City and Siembra is developing a distinct alternative that puts core capacities at the center of what we want to see in our young people, including a distinct relationship with the community in which they live and will build their lives.

In an educational environment where in many ways we’ve tried to reduce the process to a math problem by emphasizing standards-based assessments and school grading systems that might not even make sense to data scientists. It’s easy to lose track of the fact that our kids in Albuquerque come from very complex backgrounds, from a historical context that pre-dates the ethos and culture of the United States. The social challenges we face in our state are tied deeply to our history, to the fractures in our culture that have been caused and exacerbated by waves of colonization over the centuries and the imposition of values that often run counter to the community spirit that has enable us to endure here for hundreds of years. Schools like Siembra seek to undo that, to create a new space where community is valued, where the work of the school and the hearts of the kids both have room to support each other.

I was glad to participate in both the initial school design as well as in this Deep Dive session. In many ways, it fulfilled my desire to bring what I’ve learned “out in the world” back home in a way that is relevant to some of our most vulnerable communities. It was also inspiring to be able to collaborate with the multiple seasoned experts who sat around the table, applying their experience and passion to identifying ways for Siembra to grow. It’s gratifying to hope that through these opportunities, we can work together to make our City a place with more opportunity and richness for our next generation, giving them one less reason to leave and multiple reasons to stay and build their lives here.

 

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