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On the march to spread success

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Dozens of Albuquerque High School seniors paraded through East San Jose Elementary on Friday morning to celebrate graduation and encourage the young children to stay on the path to a diploma.

Decked out in bright green caps and gowns, roughly 30 Albuquerque High students marched across the elementary school courtyard and down the halls to chants of “Si, se puede!” and “Let’s go Bulldogs!”

East San Jose Elementary students, including kindergartner Gloria Gallegos, center bottom, cheer on Albuquerque High seniors, while holding drawings of graduates in caps on Friday. The East San Jose students cheered on the group of graduating seniors as they walked around the school, which was decorated with congratulations. The graduates are visiting other schools in their cluster to offer young students a view of educational success. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

The East San Jose kids lined up to deliver high-fives and hand-decorated signs with colorful pictures of smiling graduates.

“I felt like a rock star,” said Albuquerque High senior Tuesday Chavez, 18.

Chavez added that graduation “started to feel real” when she put on her regalia Friday morning. The high school students volunteered to take part in the march, which first stopped at Jefferson Middle School.

Manzano, Del Norte, La Cueva and Rio Grande High seniors are also visiting their neighborhood elementary and middle schools. Over the past few years, similar graduations walks have become popular across the country. Two Albuquerque high schools participated in 2016.

“This is so awesome,” Chavez said tearfully after posing for photos with kindergartners. “This means something.”

Friday’s parade was a homecoming for Odalys Marquez, who attended East San Jose Elementary, a school with a high population of Spanish-speaking students, located at 415 Thaxton Ave. SE.

Now – roughly 15 years after her first East San Jose pre-kindergarten class – Marquez is graduating with honors and planning to become a pediatrician. She earned a diploma seal that recognizes bilingual skills and a full-ride scholarship to St. Edward’s University in Austin.

“I would like to be a role model for everyone here,” Marquez said. “I want them to see that everyone is capable of achieving great accomplishments and succeeding in life.”

New Mexico has historically struggled to get students to graduation, particularly minorities from low-income backgrounds.

Earlier this month, a new report, “Building a Grad Nation,” put the Land of Enchantment at the bottom of the country for its 69-percent graduation rate in 2015.

Albuquerque Public Schools ranked 99 out of 100 on the list of largest school districts, with only 62 percent of its students earning a diploma in 2015.

The statistics were slightly better in 2016. New Mexico’s overall graduation rate reached 71 percent, an all-time high, and APS climbed to 66 percent.

At APS, Hispanic students made the largest gain from 2015 to 2016 – up 6 percentage points to 66 percent – though they lagged behind their Anglo and Asian peers, whose rates were 72 percent and 80 percent, respectively.

East San Jose Elementary principal Anna Laura Rodríguez said every school is always striving to keep students on track to a diploma. Celebrations like the Albuquerque High senior walk can help boost motivation, she said.

“It was emotional,” said Rodríguez, who graduated from Albuquerque High herself and was recently an administrator at the school. “It was a win-win for all the students.”

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