Enchanting Charter School Series – Anahuacalmecac International University Preparatory of North America, A Beacon Showing the Promise of Agency and Self-Determination

Good day, CharterFolk.

Last week I had occasion to be in Los Angeles. It gave me a chance to stop by and see one of my favorite charter schools again:

Anahuacalmecac International University Preparatory of North America, a charter school serving 270 TK-12 students in East Los Angeles that lives out its mission of advancing the self-determination of indigenous peoples by improving educational opportunity for indigenous youth.

As the organization’s Co-Founder and Executive Director, Marcos Aguilar, explained in a recent segment airing on ABC News

… Anahuacalmecac’s mission requires the organization “to serve as a beacon for what can be done differently within a school.”

I had the chance to visit the school several times during my years at CCSA and always came away deeply impressed by the commitment that the entire school community showed to making full use of the agency it was being afforded as a charter school to offer a kind of public education that you simply don’t find in other settings.

What made me realize I had to visit Marcos again was reading the Times on the first day of the recent strike in Los Angeles …

… when I saw on the front page of the paper’s second section …

an article explaining how Anahuacalmecac had recently acquired 12 acres of land that will provide the organization even greater ability to preserve the traditions and nature-based educational practices that indigenous groups have long-used to prepare youth for the future.

I wasn’t at the school five minutes before Marcos had whisked me away to see the property which is about 10 minutes drive from the school.

As if on cue, one of the coyotes from the den living on the land crossed our path. I was too slow on the uptake to ready my phone for a picture, prompting Marcos to send me a video he had taken recently of the whole den at play.

Hearing Marcos recount how the school had acquired the land through a landback arrangement negotiated with the city, and hearing his plans for leaving the land in its natural state while using it for rituals and traditions that the school takes it as its mission to preserve, I couldn’t help but think of ironies.

In recent weeks, the school district had taken action resulting in hundreds of thousands of students across Los Angeles not having a place to go to school for a few days. Not so long ago, that same district had taken action attempting to deny the kids and families of Anahualcamecac a place to go to school permanently.

It resulted in Marcos and his school community appearing on the front page of another section of the Los Angeles Times …

… wherein a story described how the LA Unified Board of Education had acted to deny the school’s renewal.

And though some of the most powerful charter school opponents in the country celebrated the school’s presumed demise, the Anahuacalmecac community had other ideas and summoned a forceful response.

And when their first appeal to the Los Angeles County Office of Education proved unsuccessful …

… they continued their campaign all the way up to the State Board of Education …

… where ultimately they prevailed.

The irony, of course, is that, were it not for the fact that California’s charter school law has long-afforded charter schools the right to appeal authorizer decisions to both the county and the state levels, Anahuacalmecac literally wouldn’t exist. But now, recent changes in California have taken away those appeal rights. And so, while the broader Los Angeles community was celebrating the landback breakthrough that Anahuacalmecac had been able to achieve, no one was paying attention to the fact that the precipitating conditions which put Anahuacalmecac in the position to become such a transformational organization have now been greatly compromised.

But Marcos, as he always does, having overcome so many challenges in Anahualcamecac’s two-decade history, exudes a quiet confidence that whatever challenges await are ones we will overcome. By the time he pulled us back up in front of the school’s high school facility, we had re-anchored ourselves to the shared assessment that we always come to, which is that ultimately the right of charter schools to achieve the agency and the self-determination needed to keep helping youth at the level that they deserve is a force that will simply never be denied.

Perhaps the best confirmation of that conviction was walking back into the school’s commons and finding there the most compelling evidence a school can offer regarding the value of the contribution it is making to the world.

It’s alumni.

Three of whom I had the privilege to meet in my last minutes at the school.

Kokonow Kinney who is now a teacher at the school …

… having received his credential through Anahuacalmecac’s Indian Teacher Fellowship Program.

Tecpatl Kuauhtzin …

… who attended UCLA and has now returned to Anahuacalmecac to lead the organization’s LandBack Learning initiative.

And Salma Perez, who is working on an upcoming television series at Amazon and who shared with me the piece she had recently wrote for Teen Vogue ..

… about the difference having the opportunity to attend a school like Anahuacalmecac had meant to her life.

At its heart the charter school movement is born of the notion that communities should have greater agency and self-determination over the educations they provide to young people. And hundreds of schools live out this belief everyday at extraordinary levels, but none does so at a height surpassing the self-determination that Marcos and the entire Anahuacalmecac community have achieved in East Los Angeles.

It’s why I came away from my visit last week even more deeply aware that Anahuacalmecac International University Preparatory of North America is not only, as Marcos said, a shining “beacon of what a school can do differently,” but is indeed a shining beacon of what the entire charter school movement is all about.