‘A whole new look and attitude
permeates inside OMS’

THE carpet had to go first. Lord knows how long it had covered the hallways and offices of Ortega Middle School.

When Principal Amy Ortega and her team set course to remake the interior of the school, ripping out that decades-old rug was certain to bring about a feeling of change and freshness.

Through the summer of 2022, the interior of OMS got a makeover that included removing dangerous asbestos, bringing new HVAC and improved air ventilation and new lighting into the classrooms and hallways, and deciding that it’s OK not to replace that gross, old carpet but to go with clean, polished concrete floors.

The other half of OMS, the rooms on the outside of the rectangle-shaped building and the auditorium and gymnasiums, will get remodeled next summer.

“Everything is just a fresh, new look,” said Ortega. “Those interior rooms have been much better (for ventilation) this fall.”

The fresh, new look is on the staffing side, too. OMS and its nearly 600 students now have two vice principals – April Tideman, who is new to the school district from Bayfield, and Nate Gonzales, in his second year as a vice principal at OMS and was at Alamosa Elementary before. 

‘We’re just trying to be the examples for these kids, and it starts with us.’

– April Tideman, vice principal

Together they have infused the school with fresh and “proactive” thinking around ways to celebrate student success, what constitutes discipline, and additional safety efforts on morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up routines of parents and their students with support from Alamosa police and the teaching staff.

“I think what’s really kind of cool about what we’re doing is putting safety first, which I think is a big concern not only for our school but our community,” said Tideman.

She and Gonzales are like the co-captains of the new OMS ship, each responsible for certain grades and areas, and each empowered to bring positive change into the middle school setting. Tideman is vice principal overseeing grades 6 and 7; Gonzales works with grade 8 and is the school’s activities director.

“Last year was a tough year as far as discipline and stuff, and I think we’re just trying to build more school comradery, trying to build a community, to have these opportunities for kids to be successful and to show that you can be celebrated when you do good,” Gonzales said. “That’s like our whole goal.”

Ahead of the school year OMS teachers and staff completed the Capturing Kids’ Hearts training for K-12 educators. Through that process the staff developed both social contracts to hold themselves accountable to each other and agreed on a set of discipline measures and incentives and celebrations benchmarks for students to follow in the new school year.

“Let’s get in front of the behaviors that we already know exist nationwide,” is how Tideman described the strategy. “Let’s be in front of them. Let’s give them (students) incentives instead of punishment.”

One move OMS made last school year that changed student behavior was disallowing cell phones when school is in session.

This year the staff wanted to establish even more “positive behaviors” as incentives that would yield rewards, as well as be clear on what types of behaviors constitute discipline and what those punishments are.

“We have close to 600 kids here. It can’t be chaos,” said Principal Ortega. “It’s already a little bit chaotic, it’s middle school, we’re moving from class to class. But we have to teach those expectations.”

Like OMS did a year ago when cell phones were banned.

Before the ban, it was kids fighting and bullying each other on social media, and participating in TikTok challenges and students challenging other students to do the same. “We experienced all of that, all of it,” Ortega said, attributing some of it to the first time students had been back and together since the COVID shutdowns.

Then the school took cell phones out of students’ hands from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., “and that was huge.”

“We saw a huge improvement.” Ortega said. “Coming in this year we wanted to be, instead of taking things away throughout the year, let’s start the year teaching them how we want them to behave and you can earn these incentives so instead of reacting we’re trying to be more proactive.”

And it’s working. The school feels more cohesive, students are off to a good start, teachers feel more motivated, the hallways are bright, the floors are clean and shiny, and that nasty old carpet is gone. 

“We’re just trying to be the examples for these kids, and it starts with us,” said Tideman.

At OMS, they’re working to capture kids’ hearts.

PHOTO: Principal Amy Ortega, left, with Vice Principals Nate Gonzales and April Tideman.