Passionate alums return to their community to teach, lead at Western International High School
“We’re seeing a change in the way students and staff view education within DPS. We’re taking a much more proactive, college-readiness approach to prepare our students for life after high school.”
Southwest DETROIT—“I don’t know if I’d want to be a teacher if I couldn’t come back to Western. I love it that much. My heart is here, and this is where I want to spend my 10 months every year,” said Celia Luna, a proud Western International High School graduate, class of 2007.
Luna, 23, is now in her first year of teaching ninth-grade Algebra at Western, a Detroit Public School. Luna’s pride and dedication to give back to the school and community that afforded her so many opportunities is the common thread of many Western teachers and academic leaders.
Teachers Giving Back
Rosimar Rodriguez, a 26-year-old ninth-grade Algebra lab teacher at Western, also graduated from Western in 2003 as class valedictorian—an accomplishment she shares with her three sisters and a fourth sister who was the salutatorian.
Rodriguez is in her fourth year of teaching at Western and fifth year with the Detroit Public Schools district. Her reason for returning to Western: “I get to come back to the same community where I grew up, and show kids that you can succeed,” Rodriguez said. “Because of what I learned at Western, and through the opportunities I received through the Compact Scholarship, I’m doing something that I love to do, every day.”
Rodriguez said returning to Western was really a “dream come true,” as her father was also a teacher at Western.
“It’s always been like a family atmosphere for me,” she said. “The best reward is now working with my own former teachers who say to me, ‘I’m so proud to have been your teacher.’ That means the world to me.”
David Ortega, 23, is also a 2007 Western graduate. This is also his first year of teaching with Western in the areas of Psychology and World History, and his second year teaching overall. Ortega began his career at a charter school, but couldn’t resist the offer to return to Western.
“I was offered less money to teach at Western, but I didn’t care,” Ortega said. “I understand the kids and demographics of this school, and I think I can make a difference. I can also show students what success looks like. I’m a product of DPS and you can become a success. I have friends who are lawyers and engineers— all who graduated from DPS.”
Luna, Rodriguez and Ortega share many similarities. They all received enough scholarship funding as Western graduates, such as the Compact Scholarship or Myron P. Leven Scholarship, to attend college for free. All three are now alumni of the University of Detroit Mercy, and each of them attribute their experience at Western as key to becoming successful young professionals.
“I had great mentors at Western when I was a student,” said Luna, who was valedictorian of her class. “Teachers like Mr. Mike Mokdad and Mr. Mark Bondar, they were my mentors all throughout high school. They were always supporting me in whatever I chose to do. They stayed after school with me, came in early—whatever their students needed, they were there. Just like my teachers were there for me as a mentor, I want to do the same for my students.”
‘Our turn to mentor young teachers’
The passion for returning to Western and the Southwest Detroit community isn’t a new trend at Western. In fact, Principal Rodolfo Diaz is a proud 1992 graduate of Western who returned in 1997 to teach Spanish and ESL (English as a Second Language) courses. After holding several positions at Western, he was selected to become Principal in 2009.
Diaz holds a bachelor’s degree in education with an emphasis in English and Spanish from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and a master’s degree in education with a concentration in English as a Second Language from Wayne State University, as well as an advanced degree as an educational specialist from Wayne State.
When Diaz was a student, Luna’s mother—Rebecca Luna, who is currently an assistant superintendent with DPS, was the principal.
“Celia’s mother was my mentor. She walked me through the steps to not only become a passionate educator, but also a curriculum leader,” Diaz said. “Now it’s my job to mentor our young educators, like Celia.”
Angel Garcia, Academic Engagement Administrator at Western, agrees with Diaz that it is the job of administrators to mentor young professionals and students to prepare them for successful careers. Garcia also happens to be a Western class of 2000 graduate with strong family ties to the school.
Garcia’s father taught at Western for about eight years, and played a major role in Garcia returning to his alma mater in 2009.
“We’re seeing a change in the way students and staff view education within DPS,” he said. “We’re taking a much more proactive, college-readiness approach to prepare our students for life after high school.”
“We’re trying to give our students every opportunity possible. That’s the shift I’m seeing at DPS,” Garcia added. “From top-to-bottom— from (Emergency Financial Manager) Mr. (Roy) Roberts on to school staff members and parents— we’re focusing more on sending our kids to college and seeing them succeed.”
About Western International High School
Western International is a culturally diverse, comprehensive high school with academic programs including the STEM Academy-Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics; International Business Academy; Fine and Performing Arts Academy; and 9th Grade Ambassador Academy. For the 2011-2012 school year, Western graduates received more than $14.3 million in scholarships and grants, ranking 3rd in DPS behind Cass Technical High School and Renaissance High School. Some Offerings: $28.3 million in renovations, New Athletic Complex, Language Labs, Art Classrooms, Honors/AP Courses, Foreign Language, Creative Writing, Year Book, Robotics, Drama, Film Studies, Physical Education, JROTC and ROTC, CTE, Bi-Lingual, ESL Courses, Tutoring/Extended Day Program, Internship Program, Accelerated Reading/Math, Science Clubs, Dance, Honor Society, Media Clubs, Book Club, Foreign Language Clubs, School Garden, Volunteer Business Corps, Cheerleading, Student Government, Sports.