The APS Education Foundation is a non-profit for Albuquerque Public Schools. They partner with the community to invest in innovative and enhanced learning opportunities to help APS students reach their full potential

The foundation awards grants to various programs at schools around the district to help them further the work they do to enrich students’ lives. One of the grant recipients is the Mariachi Herencia program at Atrisco Heritage Academy High School.

The program was originally founded by the school’s French and Spanish teacher, Robert Espinoza. It didn’t take long for the mariachi program to be turned into a class with 56 kids enrolled in it. It was its rapid popularity that caused Mariachi Herencia to be turned into a full-blown program.

For the last six years, the program has been led by Carolina Gonzales. Under her direction, the mariachi program has three levels: beginner, junior varsity and varsity. Gonzales also teaches two mariachi sections at George I. Sanchez Collaborative School and she also leads the mariachi program at Truman Middle School.

When Gonzales first took over the program, there was some help needed. “My first year here, you know, I inherited this program and there was no music, there were no instruments, there were no uniforms…we were just kind of like oh-no, what do we do” Gonzales said.

It wasn’t long after that she applied for her first grant from the APS Education Foundation. The Mariachi Herencia program was awarded a grant and the money was used to help pay for students’ registration fees and supplemental professional instruction during the summertime to get the kids ready for a conference.

“That was the first time they got to perform…that was the first time they got to enter a competition. It was the first time they ever got to go to any type of workshop, with some of the best teachers in the world,” Gonzales said.

Since the first grant, the program has been able to take its talents across the state including to the Las Cruces International Mariachi Conference and the Western New Mexico Mariachi conference in Silver City. And they haven’t missed a conference since.

Gonzales has since applied for another grant from the APS Education Foundation. She hopes, should they be selected, that the Mariachi Herencia program will be able to travel out of state, for the first time, to the Tucson International Mariachi conference in April of 2024. She also hopes the grant could help them offer hourly wage compensation for the student volunteers who go to Truman Middle School and help with their mariachi program there.

So, while Gonzales and the Mariachi Herencia program wait to see if they will be awarded this new grant, Gonzales says even getting the first one opened doors for mariachi within the district.

“That not only elevated us about how we felt about what we were doing, but I think it also elevated the way the school district looked at it as well because ever since then we have had amazing support for APS,” Gonzales said.

Each year, the APS Education Foundation recognizes three outstanding teachers, the ‘Best in Class’ and their program’s impact and sustainability of their ideas.