Students are whizzes in government

-A A +A
By Don Pace

When it comes to government, Robertson High School teacher Brenda Ortega-Benavidez’s students know much more than what the three branches of government are. They’re something of experts in political science.

Her students have just returned from the state Capitol, where they took part in a Constitution Mock Congress competition. It was the first time RHS students placed in the statewide “We the People” Congress, tying for fourth place.

“I don’t think I slept a whole night in two months, as we prepared for the stiff competition. It was crazy. I was crying in the morning, crying at night, not eating. It was terrible,” Ortega-Benavidez said with a laugh.

Highlands Education Dean Michael Anderson said he has been involved in the “We the People” program for 20 years. He was a judge in the Mock Congress at the Roundhouse.

Anderson noted that some of the negative stories of recent times about Robertson are only a drop in the bucket when compared to all the good things students are doing at the Las Vegas high school.

Student Jerrod Wyche said, “Our teacher prepared us well, and since this was our first time to compete, we did very well.”

Classmate Phylisia Dimas agreed.

“We surprised ourselves. Ms. Ortega-Benavidez helped us a lot. We wouldn’t have won the award if it wasn’t for her. We also had lots of fun.”

“While they didn’t get to go to Washington, the Robertson students conducted themselves like young men and women should, and they did their best in a contest that has some very difficult questions. I was just really proud of them,” Anderson said. 

Ortega-Benavidez, who has been teaching Robertson students for 20 years, is always on the go, as chairwoman of Robertson’s history department, a teacher, a sophomore class sponsor, a student council adviser, an assistant track coach and a chaperone for the mariachi group for out-of-town performances.

“The student council is involved in a lot of school activities. For example, we put on homecoming events, and we just held our holiday dance. Last week, I took the students to compete all day at Mock Congress. I came back and ate dinner, and then I went to help put at the Winter Ball. So there’s no rest, no rest whatsoever,” Ortega-Benavidez said with a grin and a shrug of her shoulders.

Ortega-Benavidez is also known and respected in New Mexico music circles, having recorded a number of solo albums. She has also appeared on many of the albums of her father, Juan Ortega, who in January received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the New Mexico Hispanic Music Association.

Ortega-Benavidez can also be heard on Jerry Dean’s recent holiday album, “Christmas in New Mexico,” singing on Track 8, a tune titled, “A Child in a Manger,” written by her father.

While Ortega-Benavidez enjoys singing and performing, she has been around the music industry long enough to know it is a business that requires one’s full-time attention while touring.

Ortega-Benavidez said teaching requires long hours, but the rewards are great.

“When you see the lights turn on in their eyes, when you know they appreciate your hard work, for me is the nicest thing about teaching. Plus, I feel I am a lifelong learner. I love school — I could go to school all the time because I like to learn new things. I finished my master’s degree, but I’m still taking classes,” Ortega-Benavidez said.

Ortega-Benavidez said, “My husband, Louie, asks me if I will ever get tired of school, and I say I really don’t think I will.”

Ortega-Benavidez has three daughters: Diane is attending the University of New Mexico, Amy is married to boxer Frankie Archuleta, and Daniela is a sophomore at Robertson.