Luz is Shining on the Future of its Students
Monday, 22 March 2010 21:28Situated on top of a hill on the Northwest side of Tucson is a charter school that is giving students from all parts of town a better chance at attending college.
Luz-Guerrero Early College is comprised of Guerrero Middle School and Luz Academy High School, 2797 N. Introspect Dr. Luz Academy is one of the first charter high schools that are busing students from other parts of town, on their own dime.
"A majority of the students come from the west and south side of town," said Ralph Chavez, the principal of Luz Academy High School. "We even pick up a few kids coming from the reservation."
Luz Academy doesn't turn a child away from their programs. Because the school doesn't require an entrance exam. They will accept virtually any student.
"We don't deny kids a chance to go to school," said Chavez. "We have students that come from Guerrero Middle School. There are kids who transfer here from TUSD (Tucson Unified School District) and other charter schools in Tucson. But if the kids want to come to school here they have to work."
Students who attend Luz Academy not only have a chance to earn a diploma, but they can also earn college credit through Pima Community College. Students can qualify for this program by passing PCC's placement test that most college freshmen take to place into math and English courses.
"We have some students who graduate high school and are already sophomores in college," said Chavez.
Students can gain college credit in English, sociology and biology. In addition, they can take advanced placement classes in Spanish and math that can be counted towards college credit if they pass the AP exam.
The school has more than 200 students with a teacher ratio of one to every 14 students. Every day, students attend four classes. On one day they will go to four classes and the next day they will go to four different classes and then switch back, said Chavez.
The Arizona State Board of Education has ranked Luz Academy with a Performance Plus, the second-highest school ranking for high school education. This is based on academic achievement, parental involvement and test scores.
Chavez credits this success to the students, parents and the school's no-nonsense approach to education. They have a strict code of conduct that regulates behavior, school attendance and a uniform dress code.
"The school is very safe," said Chavez. "We don't have problems with drugs or violence like the bigger schools."
Cutbacks are a continuing challenge
Like most schools, the 10-year-old Luz Academy faces its own set of challenges. Ninety percent of the students are Hispanic and come from low-income, single-family homes. In addition, 88 percent of the students are on free or reduced lunches, according to Chavez.
"Some of the parents cannot handle English and that makes their kids unable to handle the language," said Chavez. "We work with the students so they can understand English and we have had a decent number that graduate with honors."
The school also is lacking funding. Though they receive reimbursement grants from the state, aid from Luz Social Services and other services, Luz Academy can only afford the basics. They have a small teaching staff, one counselor to process over 200 students and only three elective classes: Computer Lab, Art and Mariachi.
During the last round of cutbacks the school lost their only nurse and two administrators.
"I wish we had more dollars," said Chavez. "Everything we want to do - like trips to ASU - we have to hold fundraisers."
Chavez believes the school needs more technology resources, a school nurse, and three more teachers. He would like to be able to fund a full-time art teacher, a music teacher, and speech and drama classes.
Though they don't have many elective classes, they do have some extracurricular activities outside of class. Luz Academy has a championship girls volleyball team and boys basketball team. Some teachers have created a student council, newspaper, science program, National Honor Society and gardening projects with no additional compensation for their time.
"We believe in this school and our students," said Chavez. "I look forward to coming to work every day and the teachers echo this philosophy. We do the best we can and the students do well. We will do good this year and next year we will be better."
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