Ysabela Gallegos Guest Column: “Culturally relevant classes make a difference in our schools”; New Mexico Youth Speaks Out

Ysabela Gallegos is a proud Native New Mexican currently attending the University of New Mexico.  She is pursuing her degree in Psychology. She holds associate degrees in psychology and integrated Sciences with Honors from Central New Mexico Community College. She is a member in good standing of Phi Eta Sigma and Phi Theta Kappa, two National Honors Societies.  She has also served as an AmeriCorps member with Mandy’s Farm working with young adults with disabilities.

Ysabela passion in life has always surrounded education. “When I was a child, my Grandfather told me “Mija, they can take away many things from you in this life, but they will never be able to take away your education.” Those words have resonated with Ysabela and have motivated her through her academic career. Those words have inspired her interest in improving education standards and how young people interact with their education.

On May 22, the Albuquerque Journal published the below guest column written by Ysabela Gallegos on the subject that culturally relevant history classes can make a major difference in our high schools.

HEADLINE: What if your history class was all about you?

New Mexico was rated 50th last year in education, and the graduation rate for the state was 12% lower than the national graduation rate (New Mexico Ranks and Facts). What can be done to help improve the educational experience for young New Mexicans in Albuquerque?

It is understood that one teacher can make or break a student’s experience in their education, but one class could do the same for Albuquerque Public School students. This culturally relevant history class is included in the APS curriculum.

Culturally relevant classes meet student needs by directly relating to the culture and history minority students experience and by creating a personal investment in the material being taught. It motivates students to learn and participate because of these factors and fosters a positive relationship with the learning environment and teachers because their culture is represented (Understood, 7).

When looking at the population, Albuquerque Public Schools severs 80% of the population is a minority, with 60% of that group being of Hispanic descent (Albuquerque Public Schools, 12).

Classes such as Chicano studies or other Hispanic-based history classes can be implemented in high school. The best part of implementing these classes is that it’s already been proven in Albuquerque’s Highland high school as effective in improving graduation rates.

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Robert Frausto is the Chicano Studies teacher at Highland (as well as a teaching assistant at UNM for the Chicano/ Studies department). His goal is to target at-risk students that were in jeopardy of being unable to graduate.

Frausto built a class designed to reach these students through their shared culture and offer them a space in their education where they were truly represented, and their own and their ancestor’s experience was the topic of the class.

Highland High schools’ total graduation rate, combined with the students who still attended school the first year this class was implemented, was 63% within the population that took this class. The following year it rose to 75%; two years later, it rose again to 90%.

This class positively affects the high school, creating meaningful change by making school more relatable and accessible and inspiring young adults to continue their education journey. One class student wrote in his end-of-year summary, “At the beginning of the school year, I was on the edge of failing… this elective helped me out in my GPA, and (I) had fun in school.” The same student also wrote, “The material we covered helped me realize…we need to start stepping out of the shadows and have a chance in life.”

The student also referred to this history he learned as “ours,” which further shows the connection these students have to the material they are learning. Currently, the course is offered as an elective at the high school. With the change it is creating in graduation statistics and individual lives, implementing culturally relevant courses is necessary for improving experiences in education in New Mexico.

This success can be replicated and improved upon district-wide and help ameliorate the state’s education rating. When students have the opportunity to learn about themselves through their education and can relate to the material being taught in class, it inspires excitement and willingness to learn.

The link to the Albuquerque Journal column is here:



It is often said that our youth represent our future. With all the divisiveness going on in the country when it comes to what should be taught in our public schools, like in the State of Florida with Republican Ron Desantis, we can take great comfort to know that the Albuquerque Public School System knows that culturally relevant courses do indeed make a difference.


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Pete Dinelli was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is of Italian and Hispanic descent. He is a 1970 graduate of Del Norte High School, a 1974 graduate of Eastern New Mexico University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and a 1977 graduate of St. Mary's School of Law, San Antonio, Texas. Pete has a 40 year history of community involvement and service as an elected and appointed official and as a practicing attorney in Albuquerque. Pete and his wife Betty Case Dinelli have been married since 1984 and they have two adult sons, Mark, who is an attorney and George, who is an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Pete has been a licensed New Mexico attorney since 1978. Pete has over 27 years of municipal and state government service. Pete’s service to Albuquerque has been extensive. He has been an elected Albuquerque City Councilor, serving as Vice President. He has served as a Worker’s Compensation Judge with Statewide jurisdiction. Pete has been a prosecutor for 15 years and has served as a Bernalillo County Chief Deputy District Attorney, as an Assistant Attorney General and Assistant District Attorney and as a Deputy City Attorney. For eight years, Pete was employed with the City of Albuquerque both as a Deputy City Attorney and Chief Public Safety Officer overseeing the city departments of police, fire, 911 emergency call center and the emergency operations center. While with the City of Albuquerque Legal Department, Pete served as Director of the Safe City Strike Force and Interim Director of the 911 Emergency Operations Center. Pete’s community involvement includes being a past President of the Albuquerque Kiwanis Club, past President of the Our Lady of Fatima School Board, and Board of Directors of the Albuquerque Museum Foundation.