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Program marks five years of giving Albuquerque students extra help

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Rose Mary Chavez made many phone calls, had many conversations and talked to many people before finding the help she needed.

Martin Ly instructs Camila Cabrera, 9, during guitar lessons held at the Patrick J. Baca Library.

But the 71-year-old great-grandmother knew she couldn’t give up. The help was for her great-grandson Julian Baca, who lives with her. He was a second-grader at Griegos Elementary and she noticed he was having trouble reading as well as struggling to put words together and pronounce his vowels. She was trying to get him tutoring or extra help after school. She started with teachers at the school, even offering to pay for the extra tutoring.

“I called the public libraries,” she said. “They didn’t have anybody. I called UNM (University of New Mexico) looking for a student that could tutor him. They couldn’t find anybody. Nobody could help. We couldn’t find help.”

Then a teacher at Griegos approached Chavez and told her about a new summer program called Horizons Albuquerque. Enrolled students get extra instruction in math and reading and participate in a variety of fun activities. Chavez said Horizons has changed her great-grandson’s life. The boy, now a seventh-grader at Garfield Middle School, is nearly reading at grade level, his grades have improved, he learned to play guitar, found a love for yoga and has an improved outlook on life.

The national program came to Albuquerque five years ago and will host its sixth summer program this year. Executive director Juaquín Moya said the six-week summer program is offered free to all its participants through scholarships that are funded almost solely with private donations.

Its purpose, he said, is to address the achievement gap. Moya said two-thirds of the students in the program are reading below grade level.

“Our goal is that by the time they reach fourth grade, they are reading at grade level,” he said. “We are targeting students who are the middle of the road.”

Moya said students are tested before and after the six-week program and almost all show improvement.

Statistically speaking, children of color and those from poor families have lower test scores and less academic success than their Anglo, Asian and/or affluent peers.

According to Albuquerque Public Schools’ most recent data from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, which is the test the state uses to assess student achievement, only 12.7 percent of economically disadvantaged students tested were proficient in math.

Horizons is holding a fundraising High Five dinner and event Jan. 24 at Las Puertas. The guest speaker will be award-winning poet and author Jimmy Santiago Baca, who learned to read while serving a stint in prison as a young man.

Students enrolled in Horizons stay in the program until their senior year. Each year, the program adds a new class of 16 kindergartners from its partner schools Griegos, Los Ranchos and Navajo elementaries. Students must be recommended for the program through either a school principal, counselor or teacher. Moya hires certified, experienced teachers.

During the summer, students get between two and three hours of math and reading instruction a day. Moya said students also participate in enrichment activities. Each day students start with exercise, such as swimming, basketball, yoga or tennis. After their academic blocks, they participate in an extracurricular activity. The program offers a choice of guitar, dance, chess, robotics, computer coding and art.

During the school year, students are offered after-school tutoring and guitar lessons.

Moya said the organization works closely with each child’s public school teacher. He said the teachers will let his staff know where the students is excelling or needs help and after the summer, they will share their information with the new teacher.

Adrian Martinez’s daughter Delana Medrano Martinez joined the program as a first-grader. She is now an 11-year-old sixth-grader enrolled in an Albuquerque charter school. The girl’s mother, Antonia Medrano, suggested the program, Martinez said.

“She was not really struggling,” he said. “The purpose was she needed something to do in the summer to keep her off electronics. Give her a chance to do fun things.”

Martinez said although she sometimes complains about the school work, his daughter has really gotten a lot out of the extracurricular activities, especially swimming. He said they would not be able to provide the same type of opportunities for her.

“I’ve been very happy with it,” Martinez said. “I feel it’s been great because of the academics involved in it.”

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