Out of 305 nominees from 38 states and 17 countries, Pueblo U.S. history teacher Mr. Cristobal Santa-Cruz was nominated and selected as one of this year’s winners of the prestigious Yale Educator Award, which recognizes high school educators who have motivated and supported students to go and be “above and beyond”.
These educators are nominated by students, and these nominations are reviewed by admissions officers at Yale University.
“I felt privileged because I know that several teachers deserved this award,” said Santa Cruz, who was nominated by Pueblo High School’s Class of 2021 valedictorian Yakeleen Almazán, currently attending Yale University in New Haven, Conn.
“Once I read the Yale Educator Award prompt, I automatically thought of Mr. Santa Cruz.” said Almazán.
Almazán thanks Santa Cruz for all of the encouragement he gave her. She believes that because of his support, she was accepted to Yale and was selected for one of the most prestigious scholarships for high school students.
“Not only did he touch my life, but he is legendary at Pueblo for his amazing lectures and the motivation he instills within his students,” Almazán said.
She added that Santa Cruz’ interactive style of teaching allows his students to be engaged in their classwork and deeply interested in the subject.
“I can honestly say that I was never bored—not even once—while I was in his classroom,” Almazan said. “I was always fully attentive and fascinated during his lectures.”
Ms. Mary Wallace, an economics teacher at Pueblo, added that Santa Cruz has been an unconditional ally to his co-educators and staff throughout their years of teaching.
“He is the most amazing teacher I ever met,” said Wallace. “When I was a first-year teacher, he took me under his wing and helped me so much. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have made it my first year.”
Santa Cruz, who has been teaching at Pueblo for 29 years, was publicly recognized for this award at Pueblo’s Homecoming game on Oct. 1.
“When my students leave my class, my hope is that they have the skills that help them become literate members of our society and that they adhere to a tenacious spirit that helps them further their education in the field they choose to follow,” he said.
On December 1, 2017, four Warrior students will travel to Denver to witness former Pueblo student Lafayette “Fat” Lever’s “Retiring of a Jersey” (No. 12) ceremony, accompanied by exceptional education teacher and yearbook advisor Ms. Marie Little and Assistant Principal Frank Rosthenhausler.
Students may know that Pueblo has a “Lever” Gym, but sadly, many of our current Warriors do not even know Lever about his legendary status—how remarkable this Warrior was back in his high school days and how nationally acclaimed he would become well into the 1990s.
Lever began playing for the Denver Nuggets from 1984-1990, and during those seven seasons, he averaged 17 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.5 assists. A two-time “All Star”, Lever ranks first all-time in franchise history in steals (1,167), second in assists (3,566), seventh in points (8,081) and eighth in rebounds (3,621).
And to think that this former all-star basketball player got his first taste of fame here at Pueblo during two very definitive basketball seasons: 1976-77 and 1977-78; Pueblo’s varsity basketball teams were State Champions for two consecutive years. Today, Lever Gym boasts these victorious seasons with banners that will definitely stand the test of time.
Math teacher Ms. Martha Avila-Miranda was a senior when our varsity Warrior basketball team won their first State championship.
“I have proud and fond memories of my high school years at Pueblo,” Avila-Miranda said, “and it was an exciting time to be a Warrior—especially as a member of the pom/cheer team traveling to all the basketball games. School and community spirit was sky high during the mid and late 1970s. I definitely remember the basketball team under the direction of coach [Roland] Lavetter and the leadership of Fat Lever, who was very disciplined—and that model of working and playing hard transferred to all who knew them.”
She added, “After all of these years, I am so touched to know that our former leaders and heroes have not forgotten their roots and are giving back to our Warrior community. I see many of the team members at different events here at PHS. I just want to say congratulations to Fat and all of his accomplishments. He is another reason that he has made us all proud to be Warriors.”
Lever, a 6’3” point guard, did not begin his NBA career with the Denver Nuggets, however. Two years earlier, Lever was the 11th overall pick in the 1981 draft—selected by the Portland Trailblazers after a successful run playing for the Arizona State University basketball team. (Lever would eventually return to ASU and complete his degree in education in 1996.)
By the time Lever arrived in Denver in 1984, the Nuggets were in desperate need of a miracle. That came in the 1985 season—when Lever helped the team advance to the Western Conference finals. Although the team would lose to the Los Angeles Lakers in five games, this season would prove to be the Nuggets’ most successful.
Although Lever played for the Dallas Mavericks from 1990-1994, Lever affirmed in several interviews that his heart was always with the Denver Nuggets. Due to several knee injuries and other circumstances, Lever retired from the NBA in 1994.
Lever later become a broadcaster for the Sacramento [California] Kings from 2007-2014, and eventually he returned to Arizona—Chandler, specifically—where he is currently a consultant in sports and international business. He also works with the Junior NBA program.
Our four Pueblo students—one from each of the media programs (radio, television, journalism and yearbook)—will have the privilege of witness Lever’s jersey being officially “retired” during a halftime Nuggets game on Saturday, Dec. 2.
After two weeks of raising enough money for airfare through many generous donors—and through a lot of tenacity and perseverance!—our Warriors depart from Tucson International Airport at 6 a.m. and will return to Tucson Sunday morning.
Yearbook student Andrew T. Romero, a junior, is the representative from his class and was very instrumental in initiating this trip. Back in October, Romero’s yearbook teacher, Ms. Marie Little, announced to her class that Lafayette (“Fat”) Lever’s jersey was going to be retired at a Denver Nuggets on Dec. 2 and that it would be a great opportunity for several of our Pueblo media students to travel to Denver and interview Lever and be a part of this historical sports moment.
From there, Romero had a conversation with former assistant principal Eduardo Nuñez (who was also a 1960 Pueblo High School graduate), who contacted Lever regarding Lever’s retirement celebration and getting Pueblo students there for this event. From there, Lever contacted Little—and Lever was able to get six media passes to the Dec. 2 Nuggets game. Lever is also taking care of our Warriors’ hotel costs for two nights.
Romero said, “I knew early on that this trip was going to be a possibility, and although I didn’t think I would be selected to participate. However, the universe likes me—I happen to be at the right place at the right time. My grades were low, but I was able to bring them up to passing, and therefore I now became eligible to represent yearbook.”
Romero approached Pueblo Principal Dr. Augustine Romero about this proposition and got his “thumbs up”.
“This trip [to Denver] is a great opportunity for our students!” Principal Romero said. “Lafayette [Lever] was, indeed, very generous!”
Junior Laura Conde, advanced journalism student, learned that she was going after editor-in-chief Iram Arce turned down the opportunity because he had “absolutely no interest in basketball.” Therefore, journalism teacher Mr. Rana Medhi selected Laura because of her excellent journalism skills.
“I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high,” Conde said, “because the whole thing seemed kind of far-fetched. But, now that we have our Southwest Airlines tickets, it’s definitely real. I’m looking forward to the interviewing process—obviously the most important story I’ll be writing.”
Radio student Marissa Orr, a senior, “When Ms. Wilson told me to go outside with Ms. Little, I thought I was framed or something. But, then I found out that I was selected to be the representative of radio to travel to Denver. This is an awesome opportunity for me—and I feel honored and privileged to have been selected by Ms. Wilson to represent radio.
Television student Efrain Estrella, another senior, said, “I feel very blessed and very lucky to be selected to go on this trip because it is a really big opportunity to not only for myself but my peers who will be coming along with me. This trip means a great deal to Pueblo High School as a whole, too.”
Ms. Marie Little, who will be co-escorting the students to Denver, said, “After the initial phone call, Lever was making contacts to ensure that all costs could be covered. Unfortunately, he was unable to secure airfare costs, so we had eight days to raise money to fly us six to Denver.”
Little said that in just eight days, she and the four students were able to raise $2,385—much of which came from current and former Pueblo faculty and staff members.
“We are beyond overwhelmed by the generosity of the Pueblo community,” Little said.
Mr. Frank Rosthenhausler, the other co-escort, said, “The entire Pueblo community is very excited about this trip. It’s awesome that our students are learning part of Pueblo’s history and also participating in the Denver Nuggets’ history. Very few students will ever get this kind of opportunity.”
Rosthenhausler added that he was a bit skeptical at first regarding the prospect of Ms. Little and students raising money for the air fare.
“The airline tickets were a hefty price, but they pulled it off,” he said. “I love how they were able to achieve this goal in such a short time.”
The entire Pueblo community anxiously awaits the students’ return to Pueblo to hear the highlights of this historical moment in sports history. The fact that Lever began his rise to athletic stardom and legendary sports acclaim right here at Pueblo makes this story even that much more powerful.
On November 23, 2016, Pueblo’s CBI students hosted a luncheon for 35 students and some selected faculty and staff members—serving Thanksgiving Dinner a day early, including turkey, side dishes and several pies.
Ms. Indelisa Mendibles, a CBI teacher-assistant, said, “For all 16 years that I’ve been at Pueblo, our CBI students have been hosting this event.”
Mendibles explained that CBI constructed the place mats, decorations and the name plates as well as the streamers, which created a festive ambiance for the classroom T-8—which ended up looking more like a restaurant.
Mendibles said that the construction of the place mats was important because the CBI students are currently learning about patterns and certain colors—and they got to use this knowledge to help with the decor.
One student, Juliane Douriet, said, “It’s been a lot of fun to eat with my family and friends. It’s very lively with all of the decorations.”
Alyssa Tapia, another student, said, “The luncheon was very exciting, and it’s very relaxing to eat with people I know.”
A third student, Jesus Egurrola, said, “I really like all of the food that is being served. It’s like we’re a family eating together today.”
Some of the volunteers for the luncheon had started preparing food as early as 2 a.m., but in the end, all agreed that this was another successful event for our CBI students and another shining moment for our Pueblo community.
Damaris Karely Ponce, graduated from Pueblo #7 in her class in 2016 with a 3.73 GPA. (She enrolled in 2012.) She was co-chair of the MEChA Club, a National Honor Society Member, Ivy League Tour Participant, TRiO Student & a member of our Swim Team. Damaris plans to continue her education to become an immigration lawyer.
Damaris read this reflection of her experience at Pueblo to our faculty & staff during their Back To School Meeting on August 1, 2016. You can play the audio clip to hear it in her own words.
I remember before Freshman year started, my mom was asked what high school I was going to. As soon as she told them that I was going to Pueblo their faces changed. They told her it was a horrible school and well… we all know what they all say. It didn’t scare me because I mean… I came from Mexico so let’s say I’ve seen worse schools. It didn’t take too long for me to discover that Pueblo was actually a really great school, with the best teachers and administration. I felt welcomed, and I received the help that I needed to accomplish my main goal which at the time, was to learn English. I will always feel thankful for the patience and respect that everyone showed me and other students in my situation. The people that think Pueblo is a bad school are the ones that are not part of Pueblo nor is informed of all the achievements we have made.
Teachers have this incredible ability to change the lives of their students in such amazing ways. I know for a fact you guys do change lives everyday. Before I was a student at Pueblo I’ve never seen teachers so passionate about helping students develop. It always amazed me the amount of personal hours you give to students. Because of my mom’s job and my stubbornness to not take the city bus I used to come really early to school sometimes. There were always teachers already in school ready to give tutoring to students. And if that wasn’t enough, some of you stay after school really late. People outside of Pueblo would say “well that is their job”, but I know, the students know, that those hours are not going to be paid. You clearly don’t know how to be selfish.
The thing that impacts students the most is that you believe in their dreams and most importantly in them. Students are being told that they can’t go to College because of their background so constantly they end up believing it. But here in Pueblo, teachers and administrators not only believe in the students, but encourage them to great lengths and to be the best person they can be. I am a survivor of Mr. Santa Cruz’s class. I will never forget when the year was about to end, he told us we were special because we didn’t give up and continued with the class. The other day, I saw a classmate and she told me she thought the classes at Pima were going to be easy compared to Mr. Santa Cruz’s class. He prepared us so well, we now feel confident about College. This is just one example. I know each of you prepared us and helped us in every way possible. I don’t know if Pueblo was a bad school before, but I do know that Pueblo is the best school right now.
On January 31, 2016, eighteen students from Pueblo’s Mariachi Aztlán mariachi group, including several chaperones and teacher Mr. John Contreras, ventured to Palm Springs, CA, as an opening act for the group, Pink Martini, a pop jazz and Latin/lounge musical group from Portland, OR, that is traveling around the country.
The three-day trip began on Sunday, January 31, at 6:00 a.m., driving straight through to Palm Springs, a five-hour trip from Tucson. Most students slept on the bus, but perked up once they arrived at the hotel.
One member of the Mariachi Aztlán, senior Daniel Motley, said, “Once we got to the motel, we all woke up quickly. My favorite part of the trip was being able to share the stage with Pink Martini and learning a few of their songs.”
Mariachi Aztlán performed four times during this trip, and each performance was slightly different because the group played in different areas.
Rafael Miranda, another senior, said “In order to prepare for the Pink Martini Performances, I practiced throughout the entire year. I also listen to their recordings over and over.”
Senior Jaret Young said, “A member of Pink Martini who really influenced me was Miguel Bernal. He was very open and humble. He told me about his life in Cuba and how he told his family about me and the mariachi. He also offered me free Conga lessons. Another influential member of the group was Phil Baker. He wrote down music for me and offered me free bass lessons in Oregon.”
Mariachi teacher Mr. John Contreras said he was contacted by Pink Martini’s management over the winter break. They said that Pueblo’s mariachi group had been recommended as one of the student groups that excelled in Tucson by the manager of the Rialto Theatre, Curtis McCrary, who had dealt with Pueblo’s mariachi group in various capacities over the part of the 10-15 years.
“One of the members of Pink Martini found some YouTube footage of Mariachi Aztlán, and they liked what they saw,” Contreras said. “They invited us to perform a couple of their songs with them and possibly open the show for them, and that was the way we were put in contact with them.”
Several members of Mariachi Aztlán were interviewed by local news reporters in Palm Springs, who happened to attend the performances.
Senior Yajaira Othon said, “All of the experiences this weekend truly were magnificent! Pink Martini’s band members and their audience were extremely supportive and very nice. This three-day weekend ranks in one of my favorite moments in my high school years.”
On January 27, Pueblo’s Girls’ Basketball team enjoyed a colossal win over Cholla with a final score of 98-11. Another victorious moment that night was sophomore Alicia Reyes, Class of 2018, setting a new state record.
Reyes made 17 three-pointers during the game (for a total of 51 points in just three-pointers!) and ended up scoring a total of 57 points, topping the previous Southern Arizona high of 54 made by another Warrior, Angela Lopez, set in the 2007-08 season.
“She [Reyes] is my shooter, she is my best shooter!” exclaimed Coach Ismael Galindo.
The previous record of three-pointers made in a single game was 14 set last season by a Phoenix Sierra Linda High School student, Janae Gonzales.
“When I hit the record breaking three-pointers, I could not stop smiling,” Reyes said. “I could see my teammates cheering for me, and it was a great feeling!”
Reyes tied the national record of 17 three-pointers that was set by Rebecca Greenwell from Kentucky back in January 2013.
“I want to break the national record!” Reyes exclaimed. “That would definitely be something to talk about for a long time!”
One of the team’s greatest games this season was their matchup against the Safford High School Bulldogs; that evening, the Warriors girls’ basketball team broke that team’s 24-consecutive winning streak.
The girls’ basketball team ended the regular season with a final record of 22-3, going undefeated in their section. They need the support of the Pueblo community when they take on the Casa Grande Cougars in the second round of sectional playoffs on Thursday, February 11.