San Miguel Students Excel
Walk into a classroom at San Miguel School and every student stands and forms a line to greet you with a handshake. “Hi, my name is Carlos, welcome to San Miguel.”
Meet a high school student who matriculated through San Miguel, and he or she will still stand when you enter the room and offer you an introduction, a firm handshake and a smile.
San Miguel opened its doors in 2004 to provide families struggling in impoverished neighborhoods with a high quality middle school education. Located in the Kendall Whittier neighborhood in Tulsa, the school of 68 students grades six through eight recently celebrated a graduation milestone. Students from San Miguel’s 2004 inaugural sixth grade class graduated from high school in May. Many are the first ones in their families to receive a high school diploma and go to college.
Ten of the San Miguel graduates received their high school diploma from Bishop Kelley High School last month. Juan Hernandez is one of those graduates. He smiles when he discusses his plans to attend Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology in Okmulgee.
“At San Miguel the teachers were always pushing you to do your best,” Hernandez said. “The teachers were your friends and were always there to help. The classes were small and teachers spent a lot of time with you to help you become a better student and person.”
San Miguel School Principal Anne Edwards said it is important for the prospective student and family to understand what is expected of them at San Miguel.
“Most of our students come from bilingual homes,” she said. “Many have been hiding in the classroom during elementary school. They may be a grade or two behind in reading and writing. We need to know they are willing to make the commitment to work hard in school.”
The school day is long. Students arrive at 7:30 a.m. and finish their day at 5 p.m. San Miguel follows an extended year program, offering summer academic and extracurricular classes.
“We keep the school small and intimate. It started in the basement of a church but has since moved across the street and is now in three houses. Our families pay $50 a month in tuition but if they cannot meet that payment, they do service for the school,” Edwards said. “I have one mother who picks up eight gallons of milk each week and brings it to the school. Our parents must be a part of their student’s school and social life.”
Instead of parent teacher conferences, the school holds “Learning Team Meetings” on Thursday and Saturday mornings.
“We have a 99 percent participation rate by parents,” Edwards said.
San Miguel, funded through individual and foundation donations, experimented this year with its current sixth grade by dividing the students into same-sex academic classes. Boys and girls separate during academic time but reunite for lunch and extra curricular activities.
“We found it really empowered the girls,” Edwards said. “The kids are less focused on socializing in class and concentrate on the work. This class will continue the single-sex classroom next year during seventh grade.”
San Miguel/ Bishop Kelley graduate Lilli Vargas learned that hard work in school pays off. She will attend Tulsa Community College on a scholarship next year. Interested in fashion design, she works at her mom’s clothing boutique when she is not in school. Vargas, like many of San Miguel’s class of 2007, was assisted in the college application process by San Miguel teacher Anna Sullivan.
“When students attend San Miguel for middle school, they are promised graduate assistance with both the high school and college application process,” Sullivan said. “Culturally, our students wish to remain close to their families here in Oklahoma. Due to Tulsa Achieves and Oklahoma Promise scholarships, higher education within the state is very appealing and affordable to our students. San Miguel class of 2007 has worked incredibly hard and overcome many fears to be where they are today. They are not only setting a great example for younger siblings and current San Miguel students, but for the Hispanic race as well.”
Like Vargas, Edgar Rojas will attend TCC. Rojas admitted schoolwork at San Miguel was challenging.
“The work was hard at first,” Rojas said. “But working hard became a habit. The teachers made us feel confident. When I came to Bishop Kelley, there were a lot of new people but I had the confidence to meet other students and work hard in the classroom.”
Rojas and his fellow San Miguel classmates frequently return to San Miguel for community service and to act as role models for their siblings and current students.
“It is important for them to know they can go to a good high school and on to college,” Rojas said.