Infinity High School students are making a difference every Friday

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Students at an area high school earn classroom credit while working toward building stronger community ties.

Every Friday, students from Infinity High School head to Belen’s Willie Chavez Park to pull weeds and pick up trash.

Photo courtesy of Mary Batista: Infinity High School staff and students go to Willie Chavez Park in Belen every Friday morning to pull weeds and pick up trash as part of the school’s service learning program.

The students adopted the park from the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District and are volunteering their time and energies as part of the school’s Earth Force Curriculum, a national nonprofit organization that empowers students to solve environmental problems by learning through service.

Infinity’s Cooperative Education Coordinator Mary Batista said besides teaching students real-life work skills, the project is instrumental in developing community pride.

In the short time the clean-up project has been up and running, she has witnessed a tremendous growth in student willingness to participate.

“It was almost impossible to get kids to volunteer,” Batista said. “I was begging them, ‘it is for work-study credit.’ Now I have kids lined up out the door.”

High school student Jason Lujan transferred to Infinity because he learned it was self-paced and he could possibly graduate early. He said going to the park every Friday has helped him view the world differently.

In the past, Lujan said that when he saw a piece of paper on the ground, it was just a piece of paper. But now he sees that same piece of paper as a form of disrespect to the environment.

Besides helping to keep the area clean, the work at the park allows students a chance to apply some of the lessons they learned in the traditional classroom environment.

Students perform water and soil testing, Batista said, to help them better understand the biological impact of the river and understand the park’s problem areas.

In addition to the working to improve the park, Infinity students regularly volunteer at the First Baptist Church’s food pantry, passing out food to those less fortunate.

Infinity Interim Principal Matt Williams said the school has high expectations of its students and is set up to provide an alternative education that focuses on community growth through practical application and skill building.

“It allows our students to go and learn about jobs; go learn about different professions and to rub shoulders with people they may end up working for in the future,” Williams said.

He said there is a misconception about alternative schools being a haven for troublemakers and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Williams said Infinity supports students with a variety of experiences who want an alternative education.

“We have had some students that may have had some trouble in life, but we have people here who are hard core and just want to get the job done,” he said.

Infinity student Naquita Baca said she decided to transfer to Infinity because she had problems adjusting in the traditional high school setting.

“I was making bad decisions because it is easy to get lost there. It’s a lot more people.”

She said she is happy with her decision to change schools because Infinity’s small classes make learning easier and she gets to earn credit while working as a youth mentor at the Boys and Girls Club of Valencia County.

About 35 to 40 percent of the students participate in Infinity’s school-to-work program, developing skills that school officials hope will make them better citizens.