By Polly Summar
Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer
SANTO DOMINGO – Kathleen Coriz, 15, stands on the bleachers outside the Santo Domingo School where she attended kindergarten through eighth grade.
“I pledge to make my family, my community and my state proud,” she says into the camera, one voice in a public service announcement that a group of Santo Domingo students are making to be shown state- and nationwide.
But it’s not just a line for the young woman, who will be a sophomore at Bernalillo High School this fall. “In our village, not too many people graduate from high school,” said Coriz, who has four sisters. “My older sister dropped out in ninth grade. I want to be a role model for my younger sisters.”
The 11 young people who have gathered at the school are part of a Class of 2012 centennial effort. “2012 marks New Mexico’s 100th birthday, and the goal of the lieutenant governor’s office is to have the highest number of high school graduates ever that year,” said Pamela Pierce, head of the nonprofit Silver Bullet Productions.
Lt. Gov. Diane Denish’s office wrote a Centennial Pledge that all Class of 2012 students can take, but it’s the Santo Domingo students who will be reciting the pledge on a film clip to be shown at the lieutenant governor’s Web site, www.ltgov.state.nm.us.
Each student will read part of the full pledge:
“I am a New Mexican. I am a member of the New Mexico Centennial Class of 2012. I believe in myself. I pledge to make my family, my community and my state proud. I must participate in classes and graduate from high school. I will challenge myself by exploring online and service-learning opportunities. I must work hard and excel at my studies. I will be on a successful path to college and the work force. I will work in my community to make the world a better place. I will make history. We will make history by graduating with our friends in the Centennial Class of 2012.”
Denish was scheduled to join the group later in the day, but the real excitement Wednesday was the arrival of Native American actor Wes Studi, also an honorary board member of Silver Bullet Productions. The students rattled off the names of movies they’d seen Studi in: “Skinwalker,” “Edge of America,” “Geronimo,” “Dances with Wolves,” “Last of the Mohicans” and “Into the West.”
Kidding around with the students, Studi said, “I can tell you that whatever you do for me is going to be much harder than what you do for Diane Denish.” Studi was there partly to participate in the PSA and partly to inspire the students to stay in school.
“More than half of American Indian students drop out of school,” Studi read as the rehearsal started. “Before the days of Columbus, Indian education taught children to survive. Education is still the path to protect your culture.”
The students Studi talked with have been attending school together since preschool. While most of Santo Domingo’s Class of 2012 is now attending Bernalillo High School, some 50 of them have been together since they were toddlers in the Head Start program at the pueblo and through eighth grade at the Santo Domingo School.
“Over 90 percent of them come to school speaking their native language, Keres,” said Susan Neddeau, principal of the school, which has about 400 students. “Most of them have some English too — their families and Head Start do a good job at that.”
Neddeau said the Santo Domingo students are looked after at the Santo Domingo School, which is part of the Bernalillo School District. When they go off to larger schools with students of other cultures and languages, “it’s a big shocker to them.”
The school is learning what it takes to make sure its students do well in high school, Neddeau said. “Our eighth-graders who are most successful are those involved in sports, robotics or the arts,” she said. “It’s key to introducing kids to, not necessarily the mainstream academics, but to a passion. Last year, we got an art teacher who hooked some key kids — with art — that might have gotten lost. … We need to do a better job of transitioning kids.”
Santo Domingo was chosen as the filming location for several reasons, said Pierce. “Santo Domingo Pueblo is recognized by other pueblos as one of the most conservative, but with some of the richest traditions,” she said. “This is a leader among pueblos in guiding the balance between adapting to the outside while sustaining identity. Some 70 percent of the pueblo population has graduated from high school.”
Among the students working with the production crew Wednesday, most seemed to have already gotten the message. Bradley Coriz, 15, wants to be a cook. He has already taken a culinary arts class at Bernalillo High School and also wants to go to a culinary arts school after high school.
“I would be the second person to finish high school in my family,” said Coriz, whose older brother also graduated.
Pierce and her crew, cameraman David Aubrey and sound mixer James Becker, were assisted by intern Ryan Evaldson, 15, also a Class of 2012 member, but from Santa Fe Preparatory School.
Funding for the day’s program came from the state Public Education Department.
Pierce, a past director of the New Mexico Coalition of Charter Schools, started her bare-bones production company in 2004. She receives no salary and has to raise funds for each project. “We have a lot of $25 contributions from people who just believe in us,” she said.