“I think for many of us, education is not just for the beauty of being educated.  We use education as a vehicle to get somewhere.”


Sandra Aaron

Sandra Aaron

Tell us about your background. What led you to work at South Valley Academy?

I hold an M.A. in Multi-cultural Special Education, an  M.A. in Art Therapy and a B.S.Ed. in Art Education, K-12 Specialty Area licenses in Special Education and Art with endorsements in Psychology.  I’m also a licensed Rehabilitation Counselor and was among the first group of special education teachers to be trained as Transition Specialists in the state of New Mexico.

At the time I interviewed with Alan Marks at South Valley Academy,  I was the head special education teacher at Bernalillo High School. What intrigued me about working with SVA was the idea of doing school and building school at the same time. Going in I knew I would be able to help the school shape the special education department.  Although I left that department to take on the work of college transition, it remains one of our biggest departments at SVA, and the current director has taken that program into realms I wouldn’t have been able to. I established the foundation for inclusion, but with changes and technology it has gone even further with the current staff.

So what about those students you meet with that don’t want to go to college?

I tell them that we have a mission. And that mission is to prepare students for college. I understand they may not be thinking about college in August but when we get to May they may change their mind. And May is too late. I tell them, “you don’t have to go to college next year, but I’m here to make sure that you can if you choose to do so. If you want to do this 5 years later, then you know how to do it because I’ve shown you. You’ll be able to follow through. But at some point, to have the quality of life you want to have, you may need more than a high school diploma.”

We’ve had so many amazing scholars from SVA, what is it that makes SVA students so extraordinary?

Our students come with the goal of “I want to go to college.” If they don’t have that goal, then parents have that goal for them. Our students are very driven and involved in a lot of things. Beyond the service learning component we’re always looking at ways for our students to build their social network. And I think that’s something that we are excellent at. Our kids come to us without any social capital, they don’t know any one in the community beyond family and friends, but through service learning and other activities at our school, we help connect them to people who become mentors. They can excel because of that. Somewhere it’s in their personality that they want more.

Our partnership with SVA began in 2008 and you’ve done an amazing job for our program. Why is it important to you to give these students an opportunity to be in our program?

When I started in my role as the college transition person I knew that I wanted all students to hear the same thing about college and why it’s important. They all deserve to hear about the same opportunities  and that’s where we begin. It’s not my job to pick winners or losers. I am committed that every student hears about this opportunity. Now that we’ve been involved with New Mexico Simon Scholars Program for so long, I’ll walk into a 10th grade classroom and 12 hands are gonna go up when I say “how many of you have heard about the Simon Scholarship?”.  So they know about it. Kids will now ask about it. We’ve had students come to this school just because of this scholarship. There are people out there that know about it and are waiting for me to tell them more. They are eager to apply and I created a process to support them with the application every step of the way. So I think that’s why when you get them, they are amazing; they’ve been able to talk with me about why it matters and they have it all together by the time they have their interview.

What advice do you have for students just starting to look at college choices and are Just starting to explore their options?

Well, I probably give kids too much information. But what I’ve learned is that sometimes they ask a question but it’s not really the question they need answered. It takes a little conversation to get there, to know what they need answered. The  kids who think college is the next step for them are also thinking about careers. I think for many of us, education is not just for the beauty of being educated. We use education as a vehicle to get somewhere. We’ve linked that to a career. Kids for the most part, they only know what they know. They know about teachers and doctors because they have interacted with them. I try to help connect kids with someone who shares their interests. I’m not the only one with the information. I try to meet kids where they are and help them get to the next step.