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  • Writer's pictureGary Chapin

Joy and Belonging at Pueblo High School

Joy at the Pueblo High School Fall Encuentro (Photo by Gary Chapin)

One of the things we insist on at ALP is that learning and assessment can be joyful. And, in fact, must be. There’s a long conversation to be had about this—and we will have it in February—but the best question to ask when we say this is, “What does that look like?”

In November, while in Tucson planning the February ALP Convening, a bunch of us were privileged to attend an Encuentro—an evening demonstration of learning hosted by Pueblo High School, of the Tucson Unified School District. It was held in the courtyard, mostly, and the energy was crackling. Folks—teachers, parents, kids—moved about, looking at the many tables set up representing classes (such as, CR Math, culturally relevant math) and student organizations. Art hung on the walls of the makeshift student run day care that was set up in the cafeteria. Students sat at tables showing off their work. And in the middle of it all the most amazing Mariachi band I’ve ever heard, playing for an extraordinary group of dancers. This was Mariachi Aztlán de Pueblo High School and the Grupo Folklorico Los Guerreros de Pueblo High School, both student groups.

I don’t know if I can convey the feeling. The music played with such irresistible passion, the dancers spun perfectly, and then one of the singers in the band took a mic, and started singing. The audience, I kid you not, swooned. A colleague later told me that this was a well-known traditional love song and I believe it!

I’ve never been at a demonstration of learning—an exhibition, presentation, or portfolio defense—where the audience swooned. That was something.

“Oh my gosh,” I wrote in my notebook, “This is what joy looks like.”

Victoria Bodanyi, a Pueblo social studies teacher, leads the team that organized the Fall Encuentro. We had a conversation.

What’s the vision of the Encuentro?

“This event has been going on at Pueblo longer than I've been here. It's one of the pillars of the CR classes here—the culturally relevant classes—that we throw at least once a year, if not twice. And it's a demonstration of learning. It's showing that the kids are accountable and responsible. They do the legwork to set it up. The way it originally was intended, pre COVID, is kids brought in food to share. We had a huge potluck kind of dinner and then they shared their learning. And so there would be performances by kids on guitar, piano, Folklorico, different groups.”

At this event there was a huge variety.

“There would be art presentations … There was a math puzzles table that was inside the school. There was feminist club, there was garden club, there was AP chemistry. Different ethnics student services groups were all there. And then there were outside organizations. We had El Rio, a health care system that we have here in Tucson. They have a teen arm to it. We had some environmental groups, mental health groups. Adelita Grijalva [was there], one of the council people for Tucson. We tried to kind of hit all the areas of anything that we thought would be helpful to students and their families, really.”

As much as this is about the demonstrations of learning, what I saw was culture, celebrating kids, relationships, and belonging. Also, joy.

“It's not parent teacher conferences. You're not going to hear anything sad about your kids. It is a joyous kind of thing. Parents are more willing to come because there's less trauma associated with this than there is with just coming to school and being yelled at by a teacher about what you or your kids are doing, right or wrong. We keep all of that out. It's just supposed to be like, come, let's break bread together, let's go learn together, let's dance together.”

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