Student advocate encourages students to succeed


Photo by Emma Larson


Student advocate
Photo by Emma Larson

To reduce absenteeism, Bellevue West has acquired the assistance of a student advocate, Mahatma Largaespada, to help students realize the importance of attending class.

Largaespada is employed at the Latino Center of the Midlands. He said his goal was to work with students who have more than 10 absences, and to try to reduce that number by 25 percent.

“‘Pathways to Success,’ that’s the program that I’m in. It concentrates on working with youths, but we don’t just work with students,” Largaespada said. “We want to include their parents in the whole process. We have family nights once a month. It’s just part of building that community and bringing all the parents together, and making them part of their kids’ education.”

The primary role of a student advocate is to offer support for students who struggle with not only attendance (although that is a major focus), but also those who need academic support or deal with challenges outside of school as well.

“He meets with the students and works with the families. [Largaespada] helps keep the students motivated, engaged, and coming to school to be successful,” social worker Emily Arkfeld said.

Principal Kevin Rohlfs hopes the program will give these individuals a better chance at reaching their goals in school.

“[Largaespada] is one more adult that’s helping to look out for students and families, and helping them find a path to get to graduation,” Rohlfs said.

Schools in OPS, such as Bryan and Omaha South, have also brought in student advocates in past years. According to Arkfeld, the program reached out to West because it has the highest population of Latino students in Bellevue Public Schools, and was given the opportunity over other schools in the district. The student advocate program currently focuses on the Latino population here at West, but is open to all students who could benefit from it.

The job of a social worker, according to Largaespada, is difficult at times but overall rewarding. He said the toughest part of his work is developing that initial bond with a student’s family, but he wouldn’t trade his job for the world. Largaespada enjoyed working with youths in the past and originally went to college to become a youth minister. He previously worked as a paraprofessional at an elementary school, but discovered he better connected with teens in a school setting.

“I’ve always wanted to work with high school students. I can relate to them a little better, even more so than people my own age,” Largaespada said.

Although he is only on his third week of the job, Largaespada is already beginning to make an impact at Bellevue West. Two students he has worked with, junior Cesar Cerna and senior Alberto Hernandez have already developed a trusting bond with the new advocate. The boys both described Largaespada as someone they feel comfortable talking to. They also felt that this program will benefit them in the long run.

“He told us to write some goals, and if we don’t achieve them we could be out of the group, and I really want to be in the group,” Hernandez said.

As for the future of the student advocate program, Rohlfs plans to continue on with it if this year’s result are successful. Throughout the course of this year, Largaespada will encourage the participating students to continue setting goals for themselves, and to work to reach their full capability in school.

“I hope that them knowing that there’s somebody else checking, somebody else that cares and is showing interest, [will influence them to] start to change. There’s baby steps being taken, and that’s all I can hope for,” Largaespada said.

Emma Larson