West Mesa HS leaders discuss pilot program for at-risk teens

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Most of the halls at West Mesa High School are dark and deserted this time of year. But you can always find Michael Parra. 

Michael Parra is an intervention specialist helping to lead the school’s pilot Violence Intervention Program for at-risk teens.

“The program doesn’t stop when school stops,” said Parra. “We started off with two kids ended with 22 kids.”

He spent this past school year building trust and creating a safe space for children to open up.

“Something so simple can be so impactful for these kids, and all it took was for one individual to listen. So then that’s what pulled them into the program and continues to have them come in and be on a positive path,” Parra said. 

That positive path has led them to jobs, summer school, and better communication this summer.

“We’ve opened those lines of communication to actually talk about what is sending them down that negative path. There’s no way that we could redirect them if we don’t know where they’re going,” said Parra. 

West Mesa Principal Michele Torres says the change in the children in the program has been obvious.

“I think if they have that adult, that trusted adult to go to, that changes that narrative for them, because they actually have somebody that they can talk to,” said Torres. 

And she knows a greater need is there. Torres dealt with students’ concerns about safety and multiple weapons on campus this past school year.

“They feel like they need it for protection. So what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to build the community, so that we all support the kids that they don’t need to be protected. Our job is to protect them, they need to come to school and feel safe,” Torres said. “It’s a societal issue for sure, you know, our schools mirror our community, and when our community is having issues, then of course, our schools are going to have issues too.”

Which makes programs like this one that much more important.

“We are fortunate to build a safe place for them, and for them to be able to come and feel comfortable,” said Parra. 

The city got an 18-month grant for this pilot program, but leaders say they plan to request an extension.

They say they’ve also been talking to the district attorney’s office about continuing something similar– in multiple schools– but don’t know what that could look like just yet.