The Libertas Academy at Americas High School has received the Hatton Sumners Foundation grant for the fourth year in a row totaling $60,000, which the academy uses toward funding instruction and materials.
The Libertas Academy, an advanced academic academy in the Socorro Independent School District that focuses on law, government and public administration, is one of a few high school programs that the Hatton Sumners Foundation currently funds as part of its youth development branch.
“We are truly grateful to the Hatton Sumners Foundation for helping us provide endless opportunities for our students,” said Eduardo Hinojos, Libertas Academy coordinator.
The grant also will continue to help fund the civics camps, where incoming eighth-grade students learn about the constitution, voting, census and more.
Madison Vidales is a junior at Americas High School, the Libertas Academy secretary and a camp counselor. She joined the program to set herself up for a career in law and hopes to leave with a better understanding of the field of law, while being a step ahead once she reaches college.
“With that grant we are able to provide the civics camps for the incoming freshman and make sure they know what is going to be offered in this academy,” Vidales said. “It allows us to create a foundation for the academy and prepare students to enter into high school.”
The civics camps provide academic readiness and build the culture within the program. Students get to interact with the other eighth graders coming in from different high schools and get to know the current Libertas Academy students, who are the camp counselors.
“While I was an eighth grader in civics camp, it was an awesome way for me to get to know people, but at the same time learn about my community and everything that was going on within it,” said Kayla Saucedo, an Americas High School junior and the vice president of law for the Libertas Academy.
Saucedo said the civics camps are an amazing experience because they give students exposure to a variety of different career fields before they go to college. The camps also teach students about democracy and the roles citizens take in government.
“We want to teach students that the government does not begin in Austin or in Washington D.C., rather it begins in their own backyard,” Hinojos said.
This year’s civics camp theme is voting rights, where students will be looking into the 13th, 14th, 15th, and 19th amendments.
“In looking at these amendments we really want students to learn the history and importance of voting,” Hinojos said. “To know that it is not something that should be taken lightly as it is something that can change our country for the better and that it is our civic duty.”
During the civics camps, students participate in several sessions, lectures, and activities, and finish on the last day by showcasing a project they worked on throughout the camp.
A group of representatives from the Hatton Sumners Foundation will attend this year’s civics camps to observe how the Libertas Academy works and its success, as they contemplate funding a new entity.
“It is a real honor for us to be able to be a model for another entity,” Hinojos said.
Americas High School recently earned a prestigious $10,000 Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam Grant, which was presented to the school in a special ceremony.
The Americas InvenTeam, which includes students involved in technology, engineering and robotics courses and programs at the school, is one of only 14 teams in the nation selected to receive the grant that will enable them to execute an innovative environmental project.
The team dedicated many hours of researching, planning and preparing for the proposal they developed to apply for the grant. They were tasked with building a technological invention to solve a problem of their choosing
“This team is highly motivated,” said Francisco Nolasco, a career and technology teacher at Americas High School. “They did everything they could to make this happen, it couldn’t have been achieved by one person alone.”
The Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam Grant was awarded to high school teams across the country in four categories: Health and Community, Environmental and Sustainability, and Food and Agriculture. The Americas team created their project for the Environmental and Sustainability category.
The students created a project to recycle polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles, which are made of a type of polyester, into a refined or shredded form to be used as clothing fabric. Their project then involves getting the shredded plastic to companies, which can recycle them into polyester fabric to create clothes to be distributed to the city’s homeless population.
“There is a lot of talented people on this team and we all have great ideas, but usually those great ideas don’t get to be developed because of lack of funding,” said Americas senior Gustavo Ramirez. “Thanks to this grant we’ll be able to push forward our ideas, which we are all very excited about.”
The students said the idea for this project originated from their awareness of climate change and their thought that as Earth’s inhabitants, people should work to find solutions to help the planet.
“This team being selected shows that they are passionate and that they have big hearts, which we always say inventors need to have big hearts,” said Tony Perry, Invention Education Coordinator with the Lemelson-MIT program. “Inventions won’t start cause you want to build a cool thing, but rather when you ask yourself how you can make a difference.”
Next, the students will be fundraising to showcase their project at EurekaFest, an invention celebration, in June at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. The event will allow the Americas students to showcase their final prototype and get feedback from inventors and professors and the broader science community.
“This is truly an amazing opportunity and we are all very excited,” Ramirez said. “Hopefully, we are able to make a positive contribution to society and the world.”
The Americas High School student council coordinated a special event recently to do their part for the El Paso community after the August 3 shooting at the Cielo Vista Walmart.
About fifteen members of the student council catered lunch for Vitalant staff members at the non-profit organization’s offices. Vitalant provides blood and special services to patients; its main purpose is ensuring lifesaving blood is available when and where it is needed.
Lorraine Varela, Americas High School student activities director, said she and her students thought about the many people and entities that were involved and affected by the shooting, and wanted to help those who were working to save lives that day.
“Everybody is focused on the victims, but we thought about everyone else involved, like the employees who worked overtime trying to get those donations and process the blood,” Varela said.
Students made the calls to gather sponsors for the special lunch and were able to get the food donated by Surprise Party Hall and Diamond Catering.
Paulina Lujan, one of the students who helped spearhead the event, said the student council wanted to do their part for the community and didn’t want anyone who has served El Paso during the incident to go overlooked.
“The smile on the faces of these people tell us they know we’re thankful and I hope we get that momentum going for others in the community,” Lujan said.
The group also has been focusing on projects related to El Paso Strong.
She said in the aftermath they gathered to brainstorm ideas to give back to the community and created sub-committees to execute the projects. One of the committees invited the Americas student body to collect and paint positivity rocks, which they distributed at the memorial.
Another committee has designed a shirt, which they plan to sell and collect the proceeds to donate to the victim’s foundation.
“I’m proud of my kids for wanting to be a part of this,” Varela said. “Our tears are tears of joy but also of deep sorrow, but spreading positivity is our goal, and no matter the action, big or small, it makes a difference when you are out there trying to do good.”
The employees at Vitalant appreciated the meal, but the sentiment behind it more.
“I’m thankful for the students taking time out of their day to come here and feed us,” said Vitalant phlebotomist Ruby Ramirez, who was in training when news of the shooting broke. “It’s so sweet of them to come out and thank us.”
Americas High School senior Gustavo Ramirez participated in the prestigious 2019 Texas High School Aerospace Scholars Program at the Johnson Space Center in Houston this summer.
“Since I was a little kid I wanted to work with NASA and later realized I’d like to be an engineer because of my love for math and science,” Ramirez said.
The weeklong program is geared toward dedicated students with an interest in mathematics, science, engineering, and computer science.
Selected students are invited to NASA for a residential summer experience of team projects and briefings directed by NASA engineers and scientists, hands-on design challenges and engineering activities to plan a mission to Mars, and tours of NASA facilities.
During his time in the program, Ramirez said he had to wake up early to work on four to five individual projects and a main project with his team and mentor.
“I met a lot of amazing individuals in the program, including my mentor and engineer Paul Hamilton,” said Ramirez.
He and his teammates did research, papers and presentations focused on a mission to Mars, which studies the possibilities of building settlements on the planet by creating replicas of its’ habitats and observing whether they could sustain life, he said.
“It gave us a real idea of what it’s like to work for NASA,” said Ramirez, who’d like to major in aerospace engineering. “The whole experience fully established my passion and what it takes to work there.”
Ramirez is thankful to his engineering teacher German Carrillo, for recommending him for the program, and his other teachers who’ve known his passion and have continuously pushed him toward achieving his goals
“It was really amazing,” said Ramirez. “One of the best weeks of my life.”
Students interested in the program must be Texas high school juniors, U.S. citizens, committed to a one-year relationship with NASA, and must have access to the internet.
All applicants must turn in an admission essay, a letter of recommendation from an educator and submit the contact information of their guidance counselor with their application.
According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, around 8:11 p.m., the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office was contacted by the hotel in reference to a “trouble with subject call.” Richmond County Deputy Stephan Psillos responded to the location and encountered Fields in the lobby of the hotel.
Psillos attempted to place handcuffs on Fields, but Fields resisted arrested. Fields pulled a knife from his coat pocket and stabbed Deputy Psillos multiple times. Psillos fired his service weapon at Fields.
According to the Idaho Statesman, Fields’ coach at Americas High School, Patrick Melton, confirmed with the Statesman that it was the same fields who played at Boise State.
Socorro ISD released the following statement regarding Field’s death:
The Socorro Independent School District and Americas High School is deeply saddened by the news about Jack Fields, a 2012 graduate of Americas High School. Jack was a respected and talented student-athlete and leader while at Americas High School. We do not know the details of the tragic incident that occurred in Georgia last night. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Fields family, as well as the officer involved.
Fields graduated from Americas High School in 2012, ending his high school football career with over 4,000 yards rushing. That performance landed him at Boise State, where he played from 2012 to 2015.
**This story will be updated, as needed, throughout the day.