Back to school in Mountainair: new faces & new programs

Lots of new changes are being implemented in the Mountainair public school district this year. The district got granted a charter for Business Professionals of America (BPA) that is bringing in some new programs into the high school.

Linda Modgling helped to bring the charter to the school and will be teaching the BPA classes. The classes will cover topics like web design, financial literacy and introduction to business. It also offers students a variety of business certificates upon graduation, said district superintendent Dawn Apodaca.

In addition, they have an agriculture group, under the advisement of Eric Encinas, aligned with the University New Mexico. They will offer a variety of courses for dual credit and will include topics like auto mechanics and advanced welding, and giving kids the opportunity to earn college credits before graduation.

Apodaca said that the 6% raises the district received from the Legislature mandated “professional development for trauma-informed care training for the entire staff of the Mountainair School District called ‘Capturing Kids Hearts.’”

The idea is to encourage learning based on building relationships at school between faculty and students, with a goal of making kids feel safe and valued at school. The high school and middle school principal, Jennifer Vigil, said that the focus of ‘Capturing Kids Hearts’ is to adopt a new culture initiative across the school district which creates a family environment for kids at school.

At the beginning of the year the kids and teachers create social contracts, which are agreements about the student’s behavior in each class. The contract asks students things like, “How do you want to be treated?” and creates an opportunity for students and teachers to hold each other accountable for their behavior, Vigil said.

It’s also an opportunity to get to know each other on a more personal level which can build a more positive relationships throughout the school, she said. That positive school environment could also serve the purpose of making kids want to be at school.

Teachers start out the day with a simple gesture of offering each student a handshake, fist bump, high five, or whatever the students prefer upon arrival to class, giving each student a few minutes of undivided attention and a direct greeting.

The district has five new teachers and a new principal at the elementary school. Adrian Vargas is the new middle school English and Language Arts teacher; Christopher Silva is the new middle school Math teacher; Linda Modgling is the new BPA teacher at the high school; Kyle McGraw is the new high school History teacher and Joanna Kayser is now teaching Vocational Technology classes, after formerly being a secretary for the school administration.

Victoria Baca is the new elementary school principal. She was previously a principal in Los Lunas schools for 11 years and a teacher in the Los Lunas School District for 10 years before that. Last year she taught Math at Mountainair Middle school and she is originally from Mountainair. She said, “I’m finally home!”

In addition to administration and teaching experience, she is also a parent, and one of her children is a junior at the high school.

Baca is also a mentor for 15 middle school kids. Her mentorship started last year when she was a teacher but she is continuing her mentorship work on top of her other responsibilities.

The mentorship program is geared around “preparing kids for the future, with the goal of giving kids the skills, a foundation to succeed for any choice they may make and giving them access to information about colleges, trade schools, and other potential career opportunities students may be interested in,” Baca said. As a mentor, Baca oversees group projects, coordinates parent-teacher conferences, advisement, grade monitoring and mental health support, among other needs the students might have.

Another change that was implemented this year is the school district “accepted the state’s proposal for an extended year,” said Vigil. The proposal added 10 days to the school year which works out to adding in 10 Fridays at the beginning and end of the school year. The district has been on a 4-day week.

The extension does not affect when summer break starts.

There is also another new BPA program and the school was awarded the New Mexico Gear Up Grant. That funding will be used to provide the students with more exposure to colleges, trade schools and other various professions.

It is a college- and career-readiness program where students are bussed to various locations to check out what the future has to offer first-hand and prepare them for life after school. The funding will be released at the end of September, said Vigil.

According to Apodaca, on Jan. 6 there will be a districtwide training session for youth mental health first aid training for all staff. Apodaca said that because of the prevalence of teenage suicide she wants her staff to be able to recognize the signs of things like anxiety, depression and other mental health issues students may have.

There is already a Mental Health Center at the secondary school and any kid can go into the center for help. There is always a staff member on hand who is available to lend an ear, or just let kids have the chance to take a break and calm down without penalty even if they have to interrupt class to get help.

Apodaca also said that because of the “drug issues we face in society,” on Sept. 7 all of the teachers from grades 3-12 will be attending a drug class called “Tall Cop,” where are “drug expert in Moriarty will be teaching the latest drug trends to the teachers.”