Talon News - Good Local News

By Jacque Ritchie


Aztec Strongerrr Effort by students, staff, and Administration


It's the end of a tumultuous school year for students and faculty at Aztec High School. On Monday boisterous seniors queued-up in front of the main office to receive their cap and gowns for that long-anticipated walk across the graduation stage. Graduation ceremonies will be held on Friday, May 18 at 7:30 at the Fred Cook Stadium, at Koogler.

Near the front of the cap-and-gown line among the students is 'Brawn' a 190 pound English Mastiff. Two-year-old Brawn is a certified service animal who is specially trained to act as an "Emotional and Movement Support Dog." Undeterred by his super-size the students surround him taking turns stroking his massive head, "I brought him here that first day after they let the students back in," said Senior Isaac Burrel, "Everyone just came running up to meet him, everyone loves him." Brawn accepts the attention with an air of serene majesty. The students present all agreed that the addition of service animals on campus was a good thing, "I like the dogs," said AHS Senior Mercedes Turner. "They make me feel safe...I feel like they could actually be better than the security guards in some cases because if they were trained right they could smell pot, so that would take care of the 'drugs-on-campus' problem and they could smell bombs, or gun-powder so if like anyone had a gun or something they could, you know, take-them-down." Turner motioned toward Brawn saying, "That dog could easily out-run any human."

There have been a lot of changes at AHS since the event of December 7, some are warm-and-cuddly like visiting service animals, others are more tangible like added police presence, security guards, cameras and proposed fencing. The tragedy has also inspired parents, faculty, administration and local citizens to activism.

Laci Phillips is an Aztec native, AHS alumni (class of '88) and the mother of two. Her daughter graduated from AHS in 2017 and her son is currently a junior. As an AHS parent Phillips was deeply effected by last years tragedy, "It is surreal really. I was raised here, I feel like Aztec is my town, those kids are my kids...I felt heartbroken, scared, helpless, terrified...If we are going to send our kids out everyday and expect them to learn, to grow and thrive...we have to step up. We have to help." Phillips said, "I cannot imagine how the teachers and the students felt that day or everyday after, but I can do what I can to help them."

Phillips a local business owner, is also an AHS football, baseball, and basketball booster. If all that weren't enough to keep her busy, Phillips is spearheading the Aztec Strongerrr Initiative (ASI). ASI is a community beautification effort that aims to showcase who we are and where we have come from by creating a bright colorful learning environment for the future. "Our school is stark white, sterile almost. We need to brighten things up," said Phillips in a statement released to TALON. "Everyone I talked to said they wanted color," Phillips reported, but it's not just about new colors, Phillips is incorporating inspiring, insightful quotes and sayings designed to encourage positive attitudes and life-choices. To facilitate this goal Phillips put together a PDF presentation and set about securing funding from the community and proper permission from the school.

Phillips said when she first introduced the ASI project she had about 100 responses and over 450 facebook followers. According to Philips, ASI volunteers include, "Moms, gradmothers, and community members." Phillips added, "I would say our students have been the most involved and my constant source of inspiration in making this happen." As often happens though, Phillips said as time goes on, fewer volunteers have been offering to help, "We would love more volunteers...We hope to accomplish big projects this summer, to have the kids come back from break to something bright and cheerful and encouraging would be amazing."

As a community Philips is optimistic about the future, "Our town is very small and very tight...the great thing is, we can make change! Our children deserve to feel safe, to have a place of education thats sparks creativity and leadership. We cannot sit back and wait for others to make the change. We must come together and do it."

Phillips wanted to take this opportunity to thank some of the folks that have assisted in the Aztec Strongerrr initiative; "Coach Matthew Steinfeldt was really the inspiration here, it was actually his idea, I just ran with it." Phillips wanted to express her gratitude to Dane Le Platt with REmix Ministeries and Sagebrush Church for funding the majority of the project, and the NM Elks for their "amazing donation." Other generous sponsors and volunteers include; Halle Meador and Baskin Robbins, Sandra and Christine at Finish Line Graphics, Crystal Riley, Main Street Spirit, Sherry Magee, Jessica Selph, Lisa Haws, Jennifer Chance, and all the teachers and students who have "encouraged and helped with the project." Finally, Phillips wanted to thank the good folks at AHS including Dr. Hall and Brian Sanders for giving the green-light that allowed the ASI to go forward.

To volunteer or donate to the initiative contact Laci - on email [email protected]


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