Bus tour shows APS leaders value of low-income services

Principals from Albuquerque Public Schools in Learning Zone 2 — Rio Grande High, Atrisco Heritage Academy and West Mesa High, and all their feeder schools — including Debra Larribas, the principal at Pajarito Elementary, second from left; Jinx Baskerville, left, principal at New Futures; and Cindy Rael, principal at Kit Carson, top right, chat during last week’s bus tour of service providers for low-income students. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Roughly 80 Albuquerque Public Schools principals boarded buses one morning last week to learn more about community resources that assist struggling families.

The Making Connections Tour – organized by ABC Community School Partnership – hosted administrators from the southwest and southeast sections of Albuquerque, impoverished areas with high demand for services.

The two groups took separate buses to visit a handful of locations in their area. The southwest tour’s agenda included First Choice Community Healthcare, Gutierrez-Hubbell House, the Patrick J. Baca Library and Westside Community Center.

At each stop, the principals met with a variety of service providers, including the Boys & Girls Club, APS school gardens, PB&J Family Services and a South Valley law firm.

Truman Middle School principal Michele Torres said she was happy to talk to several dental offices that serve low-income children.

“To make these kinds of connections is really important,” she said. “I’ve been picking up all kinds of information that I will give to my staff to get out to the families.”

The service providers also saw benefits.

Sara Money, director of Money & Me, a financial education training company, would like to bring her program to more schools, and the tour allowed her to talk to dozens of principals.

“It’s brilliant,” she said, standing in front of her table in the Baca Library at Central and Unser. “Time is so valuable.”

Antonio Gonzales, APS associate superintendent, said the tour was designed to build partnerships that address each school’s unique needs.

It’s all in line with the district’s new Learning Zone initiative.

This summer, the district was divided into quadrants known as Learning Zones so administrators could provide more individualized attention to different neighborhoods across the city.

The four Learning Zone associate superintendents conceived of the Making Connections Tour to help principals find new ways to support students.

They approached ABC Community School Partnership – an organization that includes representatives from Bernalillo County, APS, the city of Albuquerque, United Way of Central New Mexico and other groups – about organizing the inaugural bus tour.

“We are beginning to build and capitalize on partnerships that can be embedded in our schools to support the bottom line of learning,” said Gonzales, who oversees Learning Zone 2, the southwest section of the district.

Sara Carrillo, second from right, from George I. Sanchez Collaborative Community School; Jinx Baskerville, third from right, principal at New Futures High; and Denise Balderas, fourth from right, principal at Adobe Acres Elementary, get information from a PB&J Family Services representative during a bus tour stop at the Gutierrez-Hubbell House Wednesday during the Making Connections Tour’s southwest trip. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

The zone includes West Mesa High, Atrisco Heritage Academy and Rio Grande High, and all their feeder schools.

This approach is central to the community school movement, which transforms local schools into hubs for a variety of services that combat systemic problems within families. For instance, a child can visit a school-based health clinic and pick up a meal from an on-site food pantry.

Currently, APS has 25 community schools, mainly in the southwest and southeast zones.

Veronica Burciaga, family liaison at George I. Sánchez Collaborative Community School, said she’s seen many benefits of the model.

“It makes a big difference,” she said. “If they are starving at home, they don’t come to school prepared.”

Bernalillo County Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada echoed that view.

Quezada, a former APS school board member, said the district is committed to educating “the whole child” and providing critical wraparound services.

“This needs to happen,” he said. “Systemic problems of poverty are weighing on students.”