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School on Wheels program reaps benefits for mentors, students

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Sandra Fernanadez

School on Wheels, an Albuquerque Public Schools magnet school, is all about hands-on experience, known for its focus on work and career.

And Susie Rayos Marmon Elementary School has recently reaped the benefits.

This semester, about 15 School on Wheels high school students have been shadowing elementary school teachers and helping out in the classroom.

Every Wednesday morning, there’s a special vibe throughout the long, winding halls of S.R. Marmon, described principal Sandra Fernandez.

“Everybody is excited to go to school on Wednesdays,” she said. “They want to see their student teachers.”

Angelo Guzzo, 18, helps students in Hilda Saenz’s fifth-grade class work on reading comprehension and writing. Guzzo is a senior at School on Wheels and assists the class as part of the school’s service learning program. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

Senior Angelo Guzzo, 18, assists in Hilda Saenz’s fifth-grade class.

Guzzo says he does everything from answering coursework questions to telling the class about the high school experience, a foreign world for the 10- and 11-year-olds.

“They love him. They get so excited when he walks in,” Saenz told the Journal on a recent Wednesday morning.

Saenz is a seasoned teacher, having been at it for 22 years, but this is her first time she has had a shadow.

“I love having him here. He’s someone closer to their grade level,” she said, adding that Guzzo connects with the kids.

Fernandez said the high school students have become role models for the younger kids.

Through the service learning, Guzzo has learned he has a knack for teaching.

“I wasn’t too sure what I was going to do,” he said about starting the program. “Turned out to be something I stood out in.”

He’d like to become some type of consultant in the future to utilize his skills of explaining and answering questions – a talent revealed to him from being a classroom aide.

It’s a similar story for 17-year-old Samantha Detrana, who helps out in second-grade classes. The experience has taught her how to speak and interact with younger kids, something that wasn’t initially intuitive for the senior.

With her new skills in tow, she said she could picture herself becoming an art teacher someday.

Kaitlin Wood, one of the second-grade teachers Detrana helps, said she wishes there had been an opportunity for her to explore teaching in high school, like the School on Wheels kids are getting.

“It’s beneficial to get them exposure to teaching,” she said.

Detrana was busy that Wednesday helping young students on an important, seasonally appropriate task: reindeer research.

The 17-year-old sat next to Divina Anaya-Rael, answering her questions and putting into practice the new communication skills she has picked up from the program.

“I’m researching about reindeers and their predators,” Anaya-Rael very seriously explained to the Journal.

“They have to watch out for bears, eagles and wolves,” the 6-year-old said.

It’s not just the elementary school that’s benefiting from the partnership.

School on Wheels principal Lori Romero

School on Wheels Principal Lori Romero said she has seen attendance among those serving as aides improve thanks to the service learning days.

“We’ve seen a 20 percent decrease in chronic absenteeism this year,” she said, attributing that in part to the program.

And while Romero has to wrangle those students to get to class by 8 a.m. on a typical day, they are much more likely to be prompt for a 7:15 a.m. start on an S.R. Marmon-visit day, she said.

Romero said School on Wheels students can pick from a variety of service learning, something the alternative, credit-recovery school offers to all students for elective credit.

It’s the first semester students have had the opportunity to participate at S.R. Marmon.

“This is one of our most successful service learning groups,” Romero said.

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