Ask anyone about their middle school experience and you will hear a variety of experiences – some positive, but many fraught with awkwardness, insecurity, academic struggle and challenging peer dynamics. They have often felt voiceless.
Middle school is challenging and is often the time that too many students start to disengage with school and stop dreaming big for themselves and by extension for their future – and we see that bear out in the academic performance of many middle schools across our state.
What if this didn’t have to be the case? What if we re-designed and re-imagined the middle school experience from the ground up, specifically to meet the needs of our middle school students? What if the typical middle school vision was replaced with empowering innovation?
The good news is that we don’t have to imagine it. Right at this moment, NMPED Secretary-designate Ryan Stewart has an application on his desk from an innovative charter school called Voz Collegiate Preparatory Charter School that encompasses that. Voz proposes to re-imagine middle school, starting in fourth grade, to reinforce fundamental academic skills to ensure that elementary students are prepared for middle school material when they transition to sixth grade. By the time students have completed their time at Voz as an eighth grader, they will have mastered the academic skills necessary to thrive in high school and beyond. They will have engaged in cutting-edge digital education by participating in coding coursework, developed the power of personal voice by honing speech and debate skills, and built positive and respectful community by working with their peers within a culture of restorative justice. Possessing a solid foundation in oral literacy helps students become strong communicators as well as build their confidence and overall sense of well-being. When students find their voice, they ignite their power.
In reflection of the name of the school, Voz (Voice), each student will leave with an understanding of who they are and the vision and goals they have determined for their future.
It’s not enough to prepare students with the academic knowledge and skills they need to thrive in the 21st century – they must also have within them the skills to advocate for themselves and their needs. They need to understand how to build and track a plan to meet the milestones they must accomplish to reach their dreams – whether those dreams are to be a doctor, a small-business owner or a tradesman. Imagine if every student arrived to their first day of high school academically prepared to begin ninth grade coursework and had a plan for their future. Imagine!
Not only is Voz proposing a new model that breaks the mold of traditional middle schools, but it is led by a capable, inspiring leader who will serve as a role model for students. Oftentimes, the educational leadership profession doesn’t reflect the ethnic or socio-economic demographics of the students it serves. The Voz proposed school leader, Isaac Rivas-Savell, was born and raised in our beautiful state where he has served as an educational leader at every level of the education system from the classroom, district and state. Strong leaders build strong schools. Founder Rivas-Savell is a proven and well-respected leader in education who has inspired other educators and students to find their voice and use it. His reputation for positive change for all New Mexico students has followed him. He is a champion of New Mexico education, which directly complements the mission of Voz Collegiate.
Educational options should not exist only for those who can afford them, who can purchase private education or relocate to a community of choice for their education of choice. Options should be available to all. Voz will be that option, if approved.
Stewart has the chance to overturn the decision by Albuquerque Public Schools to deny the application of Voz and demonstrate he is committed to middle school student success and empowerment.
Let’s hope he decides to allow this choice for families.
This was also signed by Havens Levitt, Albuquerque chair of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, and MaryBeth Weeks, president 2019-2021 of the N.M. Parent-Teacher Association.