McDonald’s helps pave way for learning in Rio Rancho

Clemy Garza, seated at right in the front, beams as “English Under the Arches” graduates gathered to receive their certificates of completion and hold two generous checks written by Clemy and her father, Julian, franchise owners. (Gary Herron/Rio Rancho Observer)

No business that locates in Rio Rancho is mandated to be a good community partner, and there’s no law that it give back in any way, shape or form.

McDonald’s franchise owners Julian Garza and his daughter, Clemy, do those things anyway.

Remember when the commercials for the “hamburger joint” proclaimed, “At McDonald’s, we do it all for you”?

It seems they’re still trying.

The McDonald’s on NM 528 in Rio Rancho hosted a graduation ceremony on April 11 for 39 “English Under the Arches” (EUA) graduates.

The 39 celebrants, McDonald’s employees who wanted to learn English to thrive in life and in their jobs, needed only to have been working at McDonald’s for 90 days to qualify for free tuition to take classes in English at Central New Mexico Community College.

The EUA program had 23 additional graduates from four northern New Mexico McDonald’s restaurants.

The courses were designed for single, working parents with a blended method of face-to-face and virtual classes, accomplished when time permitted.

CNM also works with McDonald’s to offer these employees English as a Second Language courses and, through Archways, they have an opportunity to earn an accredited high school diploma or college degree.

The two big checks “written” by the Garzas were for $185,000 in CNM’s tuition costs and one for more than $114,700 for other tuition assistance since April 2017, including the College Online High School program and tuition assistance programs available to all employees.

Clemy Garza said she knows some of the McDonald’s employees who took advantage, or will take advantage, of these programs won’t necessarily be McDonald’s employees for life — or maybe even a few more months.

“Before, they couldn’t get beyond the kitchen,” she said, happy to see some promoted to counter work and interacting with customers.

Soon, she said, financial literacy classes will be offered, “as part of the ESL pathway.

“We’re increasing their earning capacity,” she added. “We’re working on a curriculum to start in the fall.”

Garza said that on May 13, McDonald’s is also providing senior pictures for members of the Class of 2019 who live on the West Side and in Rio Rancho, with graduates’ choices of four settings.

Summing up the local franchises’ involvement — the Garzas have eight stores on the West Side and in Rio Rancho — she said, “That’s what benefits my community.”

Hamburger helpers

Also intent on benefiting their community, every year, Sandia Vista Elementary’s student council, made up of the older kids there — the fifth-graders — decide on a community project, or maybe several.

This school year, the student council decided to focus on one recipient and selected Ronald McDonald House, where families of children with cancer can find lodging and stay close to their child in a nearby hospital.

The fifth-graders recently visited the Ronald McDonald House in southeast Albuquerque and were impressed by what they saw.

And, fifth-grade teacher and student council sponsor Jimmy Mares said, the school will donate more than $2,200 to Ronald McDonald House at an assembly on May 9, thanks to the ongoing “Penny Wars.”

The grade that scores the most “points” will win a lunch, provided by McDonald’s on Field Day at the school.

Here’s how the scoring works: All pennies are worth a penny apiece for the grade that collects them, but silver coins and dollar bills count as negative points. In other words, a $1 bill negates 100 pennies in a jug.

Hence, students in fourth grade wanting to decrease the fifth-graders’ chance of winning may drop dollar bills — there were some $5 bills evident in some jugs — and quarters into the fifth-grade jug.

Mares said he spent nearly five hours at a local bank last month, where the coins and bills were collected at that point.

In March, the school also had a toiletry drive that amassed 4,000 items, also headed to Ronald McDonald House.

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