February 19, 2013 Letter to Editor, 55,000 Hours Service Celebration
How does one quantify the impact of 55,000 hours of service by Amy Biehl students to the Albuquerque community? As Principal and Director of Amy Biehl High School (ABHS), part of my job is to represent the return on investment of a charter school like ABHS, and I’ve been wrestling with how to answer this question. As an educator of this era, I understand the value of quantifying success, and I’m taken by the sheer magnitude of the number—55,000 hours. Though such a statistic doesn’t really have a particular home in an A-F school report card, framing the significance of this accomplishment in a clear and compelling fashion should be an easy task. I think I’ll just follow the advice we give our students: pick an audience, establish the main point, and provide supporting evidence. Easy enough.
So, best I write for our state legislators. After all, with the passage of the 1999 charter law, it was the NM State Legislature that gave our school’s founders license to think big…to design a school in which every student, regardless of background, is supported to complete a year-long service project with a local non-profit or business while simultaneously taking two college classes that relate to and, thus, inform their service project.
Perhaps it’s better to write for the non-profit and business owners of Albuquerque, over 120 of them, who’ve opened their arms to our students. I would tell them how ABHS students have contributed the equivalent of almost $500,000 in wages while helping to address some of the city’s most pressing issues—domestic violence, environmental dilemmas, undereducated students, homelessness, food insecurity, immigration issues, aging--to name a few.
Maybe I should write for the elected officials and business owners who facilitated the school’s relocation to the heart of downtown. Not only did they recognize the economic and cultural benefits of bringing almost 350 students and staff to the city’s evolving urban center, but they realized that easy access to hundreds of nearby businesses, non-profits, and public transportation would accelerate the deconstruction of walls between school and community and lend relevancy to our students’ educational experience.
Or perhaps I should write for our state’s universities to tell them how 98% of ABHS graduates continue onto college. And how, according to the National Clearinghouse, an organization that tracks students’ college success, ABHS graduates persist and graduate from in-state and out-of-state colleges at a rate of 86%--almost two times the UNM college completion rate. These same students generate an average of $400,000 a year in scholarship support and over 50% persist with service work during college.
Maybe, though, I should really write for parents and students. I should tell them that by working side by side with adults in the community who transform organizations and lives, ABHS students are also transformed. They should know that our graduates leave ABHS with a sense of self and the world around them. They can think creatively, overcome obstacles, and are not afraid ask for help. Most importantly, they can exist comfortably in the world of adults and are equipped to make a difference in the world.
It occurs to me, though, that all of these audiences combine to form a community. And it is this community that our students, one hour at a time, are learning to serve. In doing so, they are learning to be an integral part of that community now and for the rest of their lives. I don’t know how to quantify the impact of 55,000 hours, but I’m overwhelmed by the idea that, despite the size of the number, it is only the beginning.
ABHS Principal/Executive Director