The Austin High Panthers’ class of 2020 took the field under the Friday night lights to celebrate its official graduation — the first one under the Sandra Day O’Connor Academy Panther New Tech Program.
The class of 312, led by valedictorian Adrian Allende and salutatorian Isacc Calay Lightborn, earned $1.5 million in scholarships.
Allende and Lightborn were key speakers during the ceremony, offering pre-recorded message of resilience and reminding their class of their place in history. The graduation observed social distancing rules in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Today signifies our class’ incredible resilience,” Allende said. We are an icon for future generations. In the future, the actions we carried out and the decisions we made in these difficult times will be looked up by historians.”
Lightborn used his fear of the future to challenge his classmates to follow their dreams and reach to their goals.
“I know that fear kills more dreams than actually failing ever will,” he said. “For that reason, I will continue to run, sprint and dash to my finish line no matter what because greatness doesn’t come to those who wait for it.”
All Austin Boy Dylan Mauldin and All Austin Girl Natasia Salcido also spoke during the ceremony reminding classmates of the memories and challenges they faced. Salcido concluded the ceremony noting the tragic events that unfolded in El Paso on Aug. 3 at the beginning of their school year to the pandemic they face at the end.
“Everything in between will be memories that will last a lifetime,” Salcido said. “It’s a beautiful thing to see how many of us have persevered through every hardship and successfully reached this achievement. Congratulations class of 2020. May your new journey be full of nothing but blessings and opportunities.”
Story by Gustavo Reveles | Photos by Leonel Monroy – EPISD
The life and legacy of an Austin High School alumna killed in the August 3 attack at the Cielo Vista Walmart was celebrated on Thursday during a poignant memorial that united her family with a new generation of Panthers.
Maribel Hernandez-Loya, a 1980 graduate, and her husband Leo Campos died that tragic August day. Her brother reminisced about her life and time at Austin – telling students of the good times they had in the very same gym that hosted the memorial, cheering on their fellow Panthers at pep rallies.
“I want her to be remembered as a beacon of what was happening here at Austin High School in the 1980s – goodness, happiness, no hate,” her brother Albert Hernandez said. “We don’t want her to be remembered by what happened on Aug. 3. We want her to be remembered as a beacon of light, a beacon of peace.”
The memorial was a project led by a group of Austin’s Panther New Tech/Sandra Day O’Connor Public Service Academy students who wanted to do something to honor one of their own.
“We wanted to figure out a way to honor her and celebrate her life,” said senior Dylan Mauldin. “One message we want students to walk away with is that no matter what generation you’re from, what year you graduated, no matter what you do or what your race, culture or religion is, we are one big family. Everyone respects each other here.”
Mauldin and student organizers offered words of hope, often touching on what it means to be a Panther and the culture that is now known as El Paso Strong.
“We know we can’t replace her, but we can support each other, celebrate her life and heal together,” senior Francesca Ramirez told the family before presenting them with flowers and a framed photo of Hernandez-Loya taken during her sophomore year at Austin.
Mariachis, the choir and the jazz band contributed to the uplifting tribute. The Austin High-based Nueva Frontera band perfectly ended the ceremony with a bilingual rendition of the song “We Belong Together,” made famous by Ritchie Valens.
“This represents our community,” said Yvette Shibley, Hernandez-Loya’s daughter.
“Not only are they sharing their love and extending it to my mom even though she had been out of school for a long time, there are also sharing it with her extended family. It’s been very touching. They’ve embraced us and there’s nothing better than that right now.”
But more importantly for Shibley is the legacy of this next generation and the difference they can make by spreading their love and acceptance. She finds that the majority of mass shooting assailants happen to be in the age group just older than the current class of high-school students. For her, the ceremony offered a sign of hope.
“I’m hoping these kids right now are going to take over that generation and take over all the craziness we’ve had in the past few years,” Shibley said. “They are trying to support us but more than anything I want to support them because we are counting on them. This our future.”
Story by Reneé De Santos | Photos by Leonel Monroy – EPISD
It was Central vs. Segundo Barrio battle at Baty-Simmang Memorial stadium Friday night as the Bowie Bears hosted the Austin Panthers.
The Bears came out swinging and put the Panthers in the defensive position right out of the gate, as Bowie put up two unanswered TD’s and the Panthers found themselves in the hole.
However Austin head coach Eric Pichardo and his assistants calmed their team down and the Panthers came back slowly in the first half; allowing them to head into the locker room down 14-6 at halftime.
The second half is where the Panthers came out and took control of the game, scoring four touchdowns in the last two quarters of action.
When the game clock struck 0:00 it was Austin 35-21 over the Bowie Bears.
Austin Quarterback Daniel Orosco, running backs William Rodriguez III and Isiah Witterstauter put the team on their backs during the second half and delivered the knock out punch to run the teams district record to 4-1.
The Panthers will now prepare for their next home game against the Irvin Rockets next Friday night October 25 at McKee Stadium with a 7 p.m. kickoff.
Words and pics by Ruben R. Ramirez – El Paso Herald Post
The Austin High School Army JROTC Panther Battalion Riffle Team is aiming for higher goals.
That’s why it was important for them to compete and perform well in the 2019 JROTC All Services Regional Competition against schools from Texas Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama earlier this month.
“We are extremely proud of the work that is happening in Austin with the riffle team,” said Velton Locklear, EPISD’s JROTC coordinator. “This is the first time Austin competes at this level and it is impressive that they were able to place this high.”
The Panthers placed among the top 10 teams in the Central Region in which they competed. Their score also helped them place at No. 11 in the national overall standings.
The team consists of Cadet Sgt. Isabel Beltran, the team captain; Cadet 1Sgt. Giovanni Hernandez; Cadet Csm. Taylor Wood; Cadet Pfc. Jasmine Beltran; Cadet Cpl. Ricardo Guerrero; and Sfc. Alfredo Cardenas, the team’s coach.
The event took place in Anniston, Alabama, and included JROTC programs from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.
Story by Gustavo Reveles | Photos by Leonel Monroy – EPISD
The Austin High community gathered last week, just below the steps of the iconic bell tower of this Central El Paso gem, to celebrate the start of Bond 2016 upgrades to modernize the campus while maintaining the historic façade.
The ceremonial turning of the dirt marked the beginning of construction on the $22-million project, which is expected to be complete by January 2021. The project includes lighting, windows, security HVAC updates, upgrades to the quad area and a new fine arts facility.
“This is so important to our students and the Austin community,” said principal Cyndi Severns-Ponce. “We’re getting much needed improvements to our building – heating and cooling, new windows, landscaping – while maintaining the historical features of the building. Austin is such a powerful and prideful community and we want to make sure that we keep up the look.”
Visitors to the campus could already see progress on the bond project through the work on the new performing arts facility – which sits in the former parking lot near the front of the main entrance. The hum of construction vehicles sounded before and after the ceremony on the new building, which will feature a 350-seat theater and fine arts classrooms.
“We’re going to finally have a place for our students to perform,” Severns-Ponce said. “We have an amazing theater program and fine arts program and we’ve never been able to really showcase them. We’ll actually be able to hold performances for our feeder patterns and bring in the community to host events. We want Austin to be a place where the community comes.”
Although senior and fine arts student Isabella Valera won’t be at Austin to see the improvements, she’s excited for the new generations of Panthers that will get to perform in the new theater.
“We’ve been around for so long and I feel like we deserve to give back to the community in the sense that we have a place where we can have concerts and plays,” she said. “Having that facility is going to allow us to grow as musicians, as individuals, as performers and as a community overall.”
Officials said the work done with the Bond will help create 21stcentury learning environments, but will continue to celebrate the historic architecture of the school, which was built in the 1930s and has seen iconic local, state and national leaders walk its hallways.
Story by Reneé de Santos | Photos by Leonel Monroy | Video by Angel Dominguez/EPISD
On a rainy Friday night, the borderland’s original rivalry game – The 87th Battle of the Claw – took place at historic R.R. Jones Stadium, overlooking the twinkling lights of El Paso.
As with previous editions, this one was a pitched battle between the two long-time rivals but as the scoreboard read ’00:00,’ it was the Austin Panthers who claimed the claw with a 14-0 win over the El Paso High Tigers.
Our very own Andres ‘Ace’ Acosta was there and brings you his view of the game in this ‘Story in Many Pics’
The U.S. Army Challenge gave students at Austin a chance to bond over pushups, burpees and obstacle courses while testing their mental and physical prowess.
Hundreds of students formed teams of four to take on the challenge at the school’s gym. They competed for bragging rights and some Army swag.
The challenge began with a fitness relay where each of the four-member took on 10 pushups, 10 sit ups, five burpees and 10 jumping jacks before heading off to more tactical challenges.
“They have to have some type of plan or objective to figure out how they’re going to accomplish their mission for that particular task,” said Anthony Dinkins, JROTC senior army instructor, who was instrumental in bringing the program to Austin.
“They will pick whoever is the best commander to lead them through a particular exercise based on the team members that they have and they decide how they want to attack obstacles.”
At the Strategy Tower, the students used their critical thinking skills to strategically maneuver pieces of the Lucas Tower-like puzzle before running to the Extraction challenge. This final challenge took kids through a series of rope obstacles, testing their teamwork, leadership and physical fitness skills. The goal was to complete all three stations in fewer than 90 seconds.
“It’s been an overall good learning experience,” senior Alexander Rice said. “You learn meet people in your class and you learn how to work together, how to use proper teamwork to complete your mission.”
Rice and junior Taylor Wood teamed up with students they didn’t know to complete the obstacles. After the first round through, they became more strategic and assigned tasks based on the strengths they saw on their team in the initial round.
“I really appreciate them coming out here and letting all the students do it,” she said. “It’s a lot of good experience because you get to learn teamwork and commitment and confidence. It really builds up their confidence and it makes them know, hey, I can actually do this or I’m not really good but maybe I can improve on this.”
The challenge also brought in recruiters from the army and university ROTC programs, Wood liked the fact that it united both Austin’s JROTC cadets with other students.
“I really appreciate them coming out here,” Wood said. “I hope the continue to do this and for other schools, too.”
Other obstacles the students took on included the Victory Wall, which required teams to figure the bet way to move across the wall using hand pegs and foot holds to get from one side to the other. Each of the pegs touched by team members get removed as they go across – further requiring some though and strategy. The students tested their upper body strength at the pull up bar.
“I honestly liked was that you were just put onto a random team,” said Wood, JROTC battalion commander at Austin. “You didn’t choose your best friends or your friends. You were just throw in it and you met and you’re just like, okay, ‘I’m good at pushups or I’m good at sit ups or I’m really good at burpees.’ It was a lot of fun because we got to bond and figure out who this person was and what their strengths and weaknesses were. It was a true bonding experience.”
The competition was held on Tuesday, October 9.
Story by Reneé de Santos | Photos by Leonel Monroy | Video by Angel Dominguez – EPISD
Art teacher Shane Wiggs unsuspectingly walked into the Austin Quad on Tuesday afternoon for surprise award ceremony celebrating his efforts to teach students about the Holocaust and genocide through the eyes of artists.
Members of the Texas Genocide and Holocaust Commission joined Wiggs’ students for the surprise big-check presentation of $1,000, his reward for receiving the 2018 Dr. Anna Steinberger Outstanding Educator Award.
This prestigious honor, which celebrates one Texas teacher or librarian for their efforts to teach students about the Holocuast or other U.S.-recognized genocides, has traditionally been awarded to history and English teachers. Wiggs is the first El Pasoan and first art teacher to receive the honor.
“The award is given to an educator and outstanding one in the state that’s doing something unique and special in the classroom to teach about Holocaust and genocide education,” said Matt Verdugo, the commission’s executive director.
“It was really fascinating to get Mr. Wiggs’ application being that he is an art teacher. The specificity of his application in terms of what he was doing in the classroom with the students and using artwork as a medium for those kids to learn about these topics just blew us away,” Verdugo added. “So, we decided he needed to win and we were happy to come out here and award it to him today.”
Wiggs had no idea that dozens of students and wellwishers awaited him in the Quad when Austin Principal Cyndi Severns-Ponce asked him to join her for a scholarship presentation. That was the ruse.
He quickly realized the surprise was on him when the crowd of his students and family saw him and erupted into applause. He humbly accepted the award touting a message of tolerance and reflecting on how artists paint an important historical perspective in times of pain and suffering.
“We got a lot of pictures of pretty flowers,” Wiggs said. “But it’s the stuff that changes your opinion, gives you a direction, gives you purpose that touches your soul – even if it hurts. If you live in ugly times, you may not get beauty, but you can still tell the truth.”
Every Friday, his lessons focus on art history – from 18th century French art to modern times.
“As soon as you get to the 20th century, it gets bad,” he said. “You start seeing people killing each other in enormous numbers. You can show them both sides – the propaganda art the Nazis were making and sometimes the propaganda we did against them. I show them the art of the survivors and the art of people who didn’t survive.”
Art facilitator Rosa Aguilar, who recommended Wiggs for the award, praised him for providing superior art education curriculum and engaging his students in art creatively and through history.
“Mr. Wiggs encourages the understanding and search for truthfulness through meaningful art history lessons that pertain to current times,” she said, reading excerpts from her recommendation letter to the commission. “His students continuously produce powerful artwork showcasing honest and raw emotional content in every piece of art displayed.”
Senior Brandon Garces credits Wiggs for developing his skills, encouraging him to showcase his artwork and introducing the sometimes-unpleasant expression of artists in troubled times.
“He’s one of the best art teachers in the district,” he said. “I feel like he’s a college teacher. He shows us art history. He pushes us and he always opens up our mind and shows us new things and gives us different ideas.”
The award is given in the name of Dr. Anna Steinberger, a passionate educator and holocaust survivor whose family fled Poland to escape
the German occupation during World War II. She is a former Texas Genocide and Holocaust Commissioner. While she couldn’t make the trip to El Paso, Verdugo expressed how Wiggs’ teachings well represent her legacy.
“This lesson is a lifelong lesson,” Verdugo said. “You can’t put a price tag on some of the things you learn ethically and morally growing up through life. He’s definitely hitting home on that.”
Story by Reneé de Santos | Photos by Leonel Monroy | Video by Raymond Jackson/EPISD
Student journalists at Austin High are looking to build on the long tradition of excellence in newspapers and yearbooks that have for decades brought state and national accolades to publications in the Sun City.
And so far, they’re succeeding.
Austin’s 2017 “Round Up” yearbook earned the staff a second-place spot in the National Scholastic Press Association’s Best in Show category — the highest rating achieved by any Texas school.
“This award is definitely a breakthrough for us … the publication and the staff have come a long way,” said Jessi Almanzar, Austin’s journalism teacher and advisor “Now, we know where we are, and it inspires us to work even harder to go even further.”
Burges High School’s “Hoofbeats” yearbook took 10th place in the national competition. EPISD is the only district in the country to place two schools in the top 10 in this category.
Almanzar said Austin’s yearbook received high marks for its coverage, writing and photography.
“Our No. 1 priority is to create a book the school is proud,” she said. “You can open the book and capture the essence of the school year. We want the students to be able to re-live the school year through the photos and the stories.”
Almanzar has submitted the yearbook to the association for critique over the years. Only in the last three years has she entered it to compete against other yearbooks from around the country.
“Once I felt the book was ready for critique, we would submit the books,” she said. “We would get very valuable feedback to see what areas we needed to work on. We were consistently getting better ratings over the years.”
The Austin staff was overjoyed to be one of the Best of Show winners, along with Burges High School’s top-performing publication. “Hoofbeats” placed tenth in the category.
“The Burges High School yearbook has always been for us the best book in El Paso. They have won so many top national awards,” Almanzar said. “It’s a publication we have always respected and looked up to so to be on the same list as it is a big deal.”
The theme of the award-winning yearbook was “True,” encouraging students to live their most authentic selves.
Junior Aliana Contreras showcased her fellow students with her writing, spending countless hours writing and editing.
“Knowing all that hard work paid off feels really good,” she said. “We definitely want to go for first place and make it an even better book this year.”
Her favorite story focused on student athlete Pedro Osoria, who uses a blue marker to write the name of his late cousin Alex on his wrist before the start of every baseball game.
“It was a powerful story because they were best friends. They played little league together, so when he died (in a car crash) it was really difficult for Pedro to play baseball because it reminded him of Alex,” Contreras said. “Writing his name is a way to honor his cousin’s memory and bring him good luck.”
Besides the writing, the yearbook has received praise for its strong photography – something that makes head photographer Priscilla Gomez grin from ear to ear.
“It feels great because we put in a lot of time, work and dedication into the yearbook,” she said. “I am very competitive so it feels awesome to beat other schools.”
The senior, who has been in yearbook the last three years, loves capturing Austin student life.
“A lot of people just see it as a photo, but only other photographers know how much work goes into a photograph,” Gomez said. “You have to get the right angle and lighting.”
She hopes other students see how far the yearbook has come and feel encouraged to join and continue building on their success.
“I want them to not feel timid to join because you never know what talents you have to share,” she said. “It feels great to represent Austin. This school has a lot of school spirit. At first I wasn’t sure of coming here, but now I would defend this school a capa y espada (to the death).”
Almanzar is proud her staff, especially since Austin has such a diverse population, from generations of central El Pasoans to students from Juarez and the military.
“I think it shows in the book the love this campus generates,” she said. “Those three demographics become family and work as one. It’s a special place. I went to Silva, but I’m a Panther now.”
Story by Alicia Chumley / Photos by Leonel Monroy – EPISD
The City of El Paso Department of Public Health is working with officials at Austin High School to notify parents, students, teachers, and staff that they may have been exposed to a student with pertussis, also known as whooping cough.
“We don’t want to create alarm or panic for anyone involved in this possible exposure, but we do want to make sure that children, their parents, and any adults affected, recognize the importance of following the recommendations mentioned in the letter,” said Robert Resendes, Public Health Director.
Letters are being sent home to parents, and health officials are asking that students take great care in making sure the letters are reviewed in detail.
The letter suggests that they contact their primary care provider to let the doctor know that they may have been exposed to pertussis and to ensure that they are up-to-date with their vaccines. A physician should see anyone with a cough. If they are diagnosed with pertussis, they will be prescribed the appropriate antibiotic therapy. Anyone diagnosed should avoid public activities including school, sporting events, etc., until completion of a 5 day course of antibiotics.
Pertussis is a highly contagious bacterial infection that is spread through the air by coughing. Pertussis begins with cold-like symptoms and a cough which become much worse over one to two weeks.
Symptoms also usually include a long series of coughs (“coughing fits”) followed by a whooping noise. Intense coughing may be followed by vomiting, turning blue, or difficulty in catching one’s breath. There is generally no fever involved. The cough is often worse at night and cough medications usually do not help control the cough.
For more information on the programs and service provided by the Department of Public Health, call 2-1-1 or visit their website in English or Spanish.
Like a true Panther from Austin High School, senior Derek Olivas showed off prowess last week in San Antonio by earning first place at the Texas Math and Science Coaches Association meet.
Olivas, who has been named the All-Austin Boy, earned the top award in the mathematics portion of the state competition. He also earned third place Top Gun for overall points in the 5A category.
“I was glad I could finally earn that first-place spot my last year here at Austin,” Olivas said. “My team has inspired me a lot. They always push me to shoot for the best. I am thankful to them and our coaches. It’s a great feeling to represent your school at the state level.”
Competitors participate in four different areas at the meet: Mathematics, Calculator, Science and Number Sense. In mathematics, students have 40 minutes to answer questions ranging from Pre-Algebra to Calculus.
Olivas has competed at the state meet the last few years, but this is first top award in an individual category. He also placed seventh and eleventh in Calculator and Number sense, respectively. The team moved up from last year, taking home sixth place in the math category.
Teams from Chapin earned sixth in the Calculator category and ninth in Number Sense and Math, as well as other individual category awards.
Coach Jaime Martinez, who has watched Olivas grow as a student and a person over the last four years, was overjoyed when they announced the senior’s name in San Antonio.
“He really took off his sophomore year and placed second that year for his age group,” Martinez said. “As a junior he placed third, so we were hopeful he would get that first-place spot his senior year. It feels awesome to hear Austin High School being called up.”
The Mathletes team starts studying at the beginning of the school year, practicing afterschool and during any free time. Former mathletes serve as mentors for the team, providing studying and competition tips.
“I like to remind the team, you are following in the footsteps of captains that have placed at state and advanced beyond that. They see that can be accomplished so that motivates them to do better,” Martinez said. “We have had two mathlete captains go to MIT and one to Caltech. I hope this win continues to bring positive light to our school. We have a lot of really smart and talented kids.”
Although Olivas has fine-tuned his skills in high school, math has always appealed to him.
“It’s something I have enjoyed since I was young. It fascinates me because it’s present in everything,” Olivas said. “I find there is a beauty in solving a problem. You discover what the answer is and it all makes sense. It’s a very enlightening and good feeling.”
In addition to the Mathletes Club, Olivas is part of the Academic Decathlon team, Philosophy club, Project Apex, Teen Against Tobacco Use, National Honor Society and High-Q.
“Mathletes is something I focus on the most. It’s the club I have been part of all four years,” Olivas said. “I’m really proud to have been in Mathletes. They are what shaped my high school experience.”
He is considering a career in the biomedical field but also has an eye on a degree in risk management from UTEP. He hopes his team continues to excel after he graduates.
“I’m really proud of my team, and all they have done all these years. This is where I discovered my closest friends,” he said. “It’s not just a place where you go and learn math. It’s more than that. It’s a place where you go to build bonds of friendship and you get to learn things you are going to be able to take with you and bring it into the rest of your life.”