School of the Week: Western International High School

Western International High School is the most culturally diverse comprehensive high school in the Detroit Public Schools district. Whether students choose the STEM Academy for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or International Business Academy, the Fine and Performing Arts Academy, or enter into the 9th Grade Ambassador Academy, they will learn self-management skills, learning/study skills, and social skills.

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.

Something You Didn’t Know…

A passion for giving back and deep-rooted family history are common at Western.

“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, 23, a proud Western graduate, who is now in her first year of teaching ninth-grade Algebra.

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, also graduated from Western in 2003 as class valedictorian—an accomplishment she shares with her two sisters and a third sister who was the salutatorian. Rodriguez’s father was also a teacher at 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.”

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 all received enough scholarship funding as Western graduates 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.

‘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.

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.”

Some Offerings:

The $28.3 million Western International High School renovation in 2011 included a new athletic complex with a swimming pool addition and an exercise facility. The existing pool was filled in and the space was converted into the visual and performing arts wing which includes a black box theater, two dance studios, language laboratories, and art classrooms in addition to a cultural center to serve as a community marketplace.  A new building security entrance was added to incorporate state-of-the-art security technologies, enhance student safety, and foster a greater connection between the community and administrative offices. Students enjoy 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 and more.

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