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Native American High School Helps Students to Higher Education

An Arizona Native American high school helps its seniors through the college application and enrollment process.

Only 17 percent of Native American high school students go to college according to the American Indian Education Foundation. But Ha:san Preparatory and Leadership School in Tucson, Arizona, is trying to change that.

This year 19 of the 23 seniors who graduated are enrolled in college and will be attending this fall. This is the largest group of college-bound gradates the school has seen in years.

“It is always better if all the students would go to college but I am happy with this class they were pretty sharp,” said Bill Rosenberg, Ha:san’s director.

There were also four seniors who had GPAs over 4.0 and this year’s valedictorian, Alicia Guerra, Tohono O’odham, had the highest GPA in Ha:san history—a 4.8.

“My goal from when I was a freshman was to be valedictorian and I pushed myself to be at the top,” she said. “It makes me feel very proud of myself that I was able to meet my goal and set a record for highest GPA.”

Guerra, 18, will be attending Pima Community College in Tucson on a full-ride scholarship. She plans to get her associate’s degree in business administration before transferring to Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona. She wants to get her bachelor’s degree in business management.

Afterwards she wants to attend Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre in Waverly, West Virginia where she wants to become a horse-riding instructor. Guerra has always liked horses and got her first one at the age of 12. Since then her main goal has been to open her own stable.

Ryan Smith, who teaches the Senior Capstone class at Ha:san, helped Guerra and the other college-bound students on their way to higher education. The class is designed to help students get enrolled in college. One of the requirements is students need to apply to three colleges throughout the school year whether it be community colleges or universities, Smith said.

Smith’s job is to help students with the admission and financial components. He also did a lot of follow-ups with students. He helped with portfolios and proof reading essays.

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“I almost ran the class like I was their dad,” Smith said. “I would say you need to get this done and you need to follow up with this.”

Smith would ride his bike to work and on his way home he would stop by the University of Arizona and drop off student applications and any other paperwork.

“It was a lot of work but I’m glad for the students because it paid off in the end,” Smith said.

Rosenberg said that Smith took the students on field trips to Arizona State University, University of Arizona and local community colleges. He also had recruiters come from Pima Community College to give the students an assessment test to see what college level classes they can enroll in.

“He did a really good job bringing in college and job recruiters,” said Rosenberg. “He was outstanding and I am really happy with the job he did.”

Rosenberg estimates there will be 50 seniors at Ha:san next year making it the school’s largest class.

“Smith is coming back next year and we will do even better next year with the seniors,” Rosenberg said.

Ha:san, which opened in 1998, is a bicultural public high school designed for Tohono O’odham youth and American Indian students interested in a college prep curriculum supported through the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, according to

The school infuses Tohono O’odham culture, traditions and language into all aspects of the student’s experiences while attending. Some of the activities include learning how to make traditional O’odham baskets and picking and cooking traditional foods.