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Christmas Joy at historically Presbyterian racial-ethnic school in New Mexico

Helping students from underserved communities reach their full potential

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – When seventh grader La Brandon Spillman heard the news he was going to be able to go to Menaul School (grades 6-12), he was overjoyed. His mother, Ella Spillman, started crying.

She knew her 12-year-old African-American son’s chances for success were slim in their hometown of Albuquerque, where only 45 percent of racial-ethnic students graduate from high school.

The makeup of the Menaul School—a historically Presbyterian racial-ethnic school—is 83.5 percent non-European and its graduation rate 99 percent, with more than 98 percent of students going on to college.

“I was like wow, awesome, I get to go here,” says La Brandon, who used his own money from mowing lawns to pay for his school uniform. “There’s not many black people in good workin jobs. So it’s critical for me to set the path to do it, so others can do it to.”

La Brandon’s mom Ella is disabled and hasn’t been able to work for a couple of years. One of the members of the African American scholarship committee at Menaul knew about Spillman’s situation and about the school’s desire to reach out to kid’s in Albuquerque’s underserved communities.’

“She called me, asked us to apply for a scholarship for La Brandon,” says Spillman. “It’s truly amazing, that God did that for my son.”

Mariposa Duran, whose ethnicity is Native American and Hispanic, is also thriving at Menaul. She’s an honor student, cheerleader and volleyball player. She wants to be a judge so that she can “help people with family issues.” If a parent is abusing their child she’d like to “straighten that out too.” One of things she like’s most about Menaul is that “the teachers are great” and that there’s not “anything big going on like drugs.”

Mariposa was placed in foster care just days after her birth, because her mother was unable to care for her. Mariposa’s maternal grandmother gained custody of Mariposa at four months, eventually adopting her.

“The ability to receive financial aid from the school means everything to people like me,” she says. “I’m a widow and single mom that wants the best for her child.”

Menaul President Lindsey Gilbert, Jr. says Mariposa and La Brandon are “exemplars” of dozens of kids at the school overcoming significant obstacles who will change their family’s futures.

“Mariposa has a powerful, wonderful spirit,” he says. “And La Brandon has an enthusiasm for learning. Both are contagious, and have become leaders in our school.”

Both mothers, Debra Duran and Ella Spillman are grateful to those who support the historical Presbyterian racial-ethnic school and colleges. Without it, they say their children would not have the opportunity to reach their full potential, to become an embodiment of Menaul’s mission to help students from underserved communities become servant leaders.

“I don’t know how to say thank you enough,” says a tearful Spillman. “But thank you. Without the help of aid from the scholarships my son would not be here.”


To support students like La Brandon and Mariposa—and their families— give to the Christmas Joy Offering which supports historically Presbyterian-related racial ethnic schools and colleges, and also provides financial assistance to current and former church workers and their families in times of need.

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