Watch the video that accompanies this transcript here.
This is the transcript of the Educational Stakeholders Panel from the 2021 Carl & Marilynn Thoma New Mexico Education Funders Southern Summit. To learn more about this convening, please refer to the introductory post for this blog series. To find out about our panelists and facilitators, reference the bios presented here.
This transcript has been lightly edited and abridged for clarity and concision.
Terra Winter: Hi everyone, I’m Terra Winter. I’m the President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico. Our offices are here in Las Cruces but we cover a 10-county area. We’ve been in this community for 32 years, as a community foundation we have shifted and grown like everyone else. I’m proud to say that within four and a half years, we’ve gone from two grant cycles to about seven different cycles per year. We’ve really grown and we continue to grow. This last year has been really interesting. We did six COVID response funds which was wild and quick and fast. We also did a COVID emergency fund for La Union which is a small colonia in the southern part of our county when we had a massive flood just a couple of months ago. It’s been a real honor to be part of this community, to be here, and to welcome all of you today. This is a time for networking and getting to know each other.
Sarah Rovang: Thank you so much, Terra, for that kind introduction. And thank you to everyone for joining us this afternoon for the first session of the Thoma Foundation Education Funders Southern Summit.
My name is Sarah Rovang and I’m the Program Officer of the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation, based in our Santa Fe office. On behalf of the whole Foundation, we want to welcome you to this exciting two-day event. I am honored to be joined today by my colleague on the grants team, Christine Dong, our Strategic Projects Associate. I also want to thank Alli Deri, who has heroically provided the administrative and logistics support from our Chicago office. Our new director, Holly Harrison, was unfortunately unable to join us today. She deeply regrets not being able to join us for this conversation.
We are incredibly thankful to be co-organizing this conference with some other amazing collaborators. From Groundworks New Mexico, Frank Lopez and Danielle LaJoie have lent their experience and connections throughout the planning process and will be serving as facilitators today and tomorrow. We are also thrilled to have André Gonzales of Weave: The Social Fabric Project at the Aspen Institute as another co-organizer and the moderator for our nonprofit panel tomorrow morning. Thank you all for your input and honest feedback as we have worked to structure the conversations that will ground this convening and hopefully inspire future work.
We are so grateful to both our local partners and panelists and our fellow funders for giving so generously of your time and making the arrangements to be here with us in person. Along those lines, we want to say a big thank you to all of the families, colleagues, and other community members whose work and commitment supports all us being here today.
We are delighted to have everyone together in this beautiful venue at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum for what I imagine is the first in-person convening that some of us have attended since the beginning of the pandemic. Despite the continued risk, we felt very strongly that this was a conversation worth beginning in person and on the ground.
At Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation, the bulk of our grantmaking programs have historically been tied to the art collection of our founders. Within the last year, we have begun to expand our mission to include a focus on education and community, with a particular emphasis on rural and underserved areas of our target states. The process of expanding from the arts into education has been one of finding the right partners and doing a lot of listening. We are indebted to the dozens of educators, administrators, policymakers, nonprofit leaders, and other stakeholders who have taken the time to have conversations with us over the past year as our team has built up a picture of the educational ecosystems in both New Mexico and Texas. This convening is really an extension of this listening work.
Earlier this year, the Thoma Foundation joined a group of funders working in seven northern counties organized by the Los Alamos National Laboratories Foundation called the Pathways to Opportunity Strategy Table. It has been a fantastic opportunity to learn together and explore possible structures for funder collaboration. Education has long been an interest and passion for both Carl and Marilynn and their belief in the potential of rural youth and desire to improve educational opportunities has driven many of our recent efforts.
Additionally, we see a lot of opportunity in Southern New Mexico. While most philanthropic dollars in the state tend to flow to the North, we have observed that nonprofits and educational initiatives operating in the South are resourceful and resilient. We have also heard about sustained and successful collaboration between nonprofits in Southern New Mexico. We have seen leaders who head streamlined operations, because when you are working with fewer resources, this kind of efficiency becomes a way of life. From small but impactful grassroots interventions, to bigger backbone organizations, to flagship higher ed institutions, we have come to see Southern New Mexico as a wellspring of innovation in education. We wanted to begin this conversation in Doña Ana County because Las Cruces functions as a hub for much of this work and as a connector to the rest of the region. We are thrilled to be welcoming many fellow funders from the El Paso area to this meeting, as well. As a Foundation that funds in both Texas and New Mexico, we are also interested to learn from our fellow funders who work across the border to see what kinds of initiatives and policy levers are most useful in these two very different states.
The goals of this summit are threefold:
- Gain the interest of statewide and regional funders to intensify their work in education in Southern New Mexico and spark conversations around potential funder collaborations.
- Bridge the gap between nonprofit leaders and funders by encouraging open and transparent conversations about community needs, youth opportunities, and capacity building.
- Lay the groundwork for future shared learning and potentially a permanent working group akin to the Pathways to Opportunity group in Northern New Mexico.
Most of all though, this convening is a first step; an opportunity to get in the room with a bunch of smart and dedicated folks who are making a difference in the lives of young people, families, and communities to affect educational outcomes in this part of the state. Again, our goal this week is largely to sit back, listen, and ask questions. We’re cognizant of our position as relative outsiders and newcomers to the education space. We are relying on our fellow funders, our panelists, and the other nonprofit leaders and educators who are in attendance throughout this program to create an open dialogue for shared learning around education broadly.
The Thoma Foundation’s work in education to date has been largely focused on college and career pathways. However, recognizing the amazing work that has been done here in Doña Ana County in early childhood education, in providing wraparound services, and in community organizing, we wanted to keep the idea of having an “education” convening in Southern New Mexico as broad and inclusive as possible. Through a series of conversations with local experts and leaders on the ground, we hope to both paint a broad picture of the educational ecosystem in this part of the state, and to root the conversation in the experiences of individuals who have made youth empowerment and education central to their lives’ work.
Our first panel this afternoon will be critical as we strive to collectively better understand the status quo and recent trends in education the state of education today. Our esteemed panelists have been chosen for their unique perspectives on education in Southern New Mexico. Although all our panelists work deeply in community, their approaches and strategies for engagement vary widely. We’ll get both high-level data-driven views as well as personal histories of activism, grassroots community work, and institutional leadership.
With that, I will hand things over to Frank Lopez, the Executive Director of Groundworks New Mexico, to introduce our panelists and to say a few words about the goals of this first conversation.
Frank Lopez: Bienvenidos todos, welcome everyone. My name is Frank René Lopez, I’m with Groundworks New Mexico, formerly the New Mexico Association of Grantmakers. First, I want to give a lot of gratitude and appreciation to Sarah and Christine from the Thoma Foundation. Can we give the Thoma Foundation another hand, please? [applause]
Just walking in the room, even though people are wearing masks, I recognize people’s eyes and I know some people from El Paso and up north, along with colleagues from Las Cruces and Doña Ana County. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be here today and to facilitate this panel.
The folks on the panel are people I’ve known for a good amount of time. I admire the people on this stage for the work they have done over the years and for the work they do now. I want to say a few things about why this convening is so important, at least from my perspective. It’s not a conference—it’s a convening, a gathering. We’re bringing people together so that we can have a conversation. And this panel will help ground us and paint a picture of the education landscape in this region. I’m thrilled we have folks in from out of town. I used to live in Las Cruces, now I’m in Albuquerque. I can’t tell you how much I miss the desert. I am still a desert rat at heart. I absolutely love this community and its people.
I am going to let the panelists introduce themselves and the organizations they’re with. Let’s start with Dr. Torres.
Dr. Mónica Torres: My name is Mónica Torres and I’m currently the President of Doña Ana Community College (DACC), a branch campus of New Mexico State University. Like a lot of community colleges, we do adult education, workforce preparation, transfer education, and small business assistance.
I was born in El Paso but raised in Las Cruces. I spent some time in Albuquerque and the Midwest, but wanted to come back to the desert and be around a large Mexican-American population. I got a bachelor’s degree at New Mexico State University. At the end of my degree…I had a faculty member look at me and say, “ever thought of graduate school?” I started to think about graduate school. I got a master’s in composition, became a composition teacher, and started to think about how we create healthy, productive environments for learning. I started that career forty years ago and it still drives me in the work I do. It is important to remember at DACC, and frankly, at most institutions in New Mexico, so many of the students that I work with are on the wrong side of the economic divide, the cultural divide, the digital divide. When we talk about them, we talk about them as if they are the problem, that they’re the deficit—but they’re not the deficit. And even though people often think of them as if they are the deficit, they’ve actually used incredible resourcefulness, intelligence, and persistence—a whole set of skills to navigate the side of the divide that they’re on. I don’t think that’s a surprise to people here. But what I think is a surprise is how persistent the deficit model is.
Lucía Carmona: Good afternoon. I am really honored to be here. Most of you are my colleagues, my sisters, my brothers, people really close to my heart. I declare myself as a community organizer for life in Doña Ana County. I’m from the border, from Juárez. My natural place to live is this region, I come from border town people. I grew up with that historical trauma and shame about who I was. My grandmother came from La Ciudad Tarahumara, Rarámuri, and they taught me “que no te conozcan como india [don’t let them know you’re (an) Indian]; you’re not an Indian; you have to behave because we have to be accepted.” In the United States, you have to be someone who is accepted, who is assimilated, who follows the rules. But I’m a terca. Soy terca como una mula, así dijo mi abuela [I’m stubborn as a mule, as my grandmother used to say]. I’m stubborn and if say I can do something, I’ll do it. All these partners are here because they are stubborn as well.
Bringing education to the forefront is one of the challenges that we have in our border region. As a community organizer I’ve worked with environmental justice issues, immigrant rights, farm workers, but access to education, access to health, access to all those systems for our communities are not there yet. I started to dig more into my roots because that’s what I was looking for, beyond chile verde and Cinco de Mayo and mariachis and tequila. We’re more than that as Mexicans…[we make up] almost 90% of heritage here in New Mexico. We’re in the border region! We’re not immigrants, we’re not Latinos, we’re Mexicanos. We’ve lost that heritage. That’s why we grow up with that shame, it’s the shame that comes from our roots being cut. And working with the native community leadership in New Mexico, I’ve learned how to bring the language and culture into the curriculum of our schools…There was a perfect moment when I met Carlos Aceves, co-founder of Raices del Saber. He’s an educator and bilingual teacher who put together Mesoamerican language and concepts as part of the curriculum enrichment program, to bring up the identity of students in the region’s kindergartens. When we started this discussion about cradle-to-career in the county, each of us had different solutions. All of us are strong in those different perspectives and coming together we’ve been able to address many things—and that’s why we’re here today.
Our school, Raíces del Saber Xinachtli Community School started as a grassroots process. When we talk about the pedagogical tools that we are putting in place daily in schools, not as an enrichment program, but as the total school life from 7 am to 6 pm, there was a need to overcome historical and intergenerational trauma in our communities. Our students are behind because they don’t feel that they belong, ni de aquí ni de allá, ni ingles ni espanol [neither from here, nor from there, neither English nor Spanish]. We are not proficient in any language because we don’t know where we are or where we come from. That’s how my brothers and sisters at the Native Pueblos in New Mexico and all over started to realize they needed to retake and reclaim that part and be proud of who they are. It’s not that we are claiming or expecting that everybody will claim their Indigenous heritage but it’s important to learn where we come from in order to move forward and to have self-identity be clear and be proud of who we are. The only thing we have to change is our behavior. How do we walk this land? How do we do things for the good cause? Thank you.
Julia River-Tapia: Buenas tardes, it’s a pleasure to be here. I am Julia Rivera-Tapia, the director of the Xinatchtli Community School. I was born in Chicago, but I have lived in New Mexico a long time. I am a kindergarten teacher, I started in 2005 at the University of New Mexico as a kindergarten and elementary school teacher and community organizer. I’ve worked with immigrant communities. I obtained my master’s from Columbia University at the Teacher’s College. I just moved to Las Cruces from Albuquerque. I lived in Albuquerque for more than 20 years and my three children are with me. Two of my children are blessed to be at our school where we teach Kindergarten through third grade. They are learning Nahuatl as a third language, which is spoken by 1.7 million Mexicans, in southern Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras—it’s a language that’s very much alive. Unfortunately, my family wasn’t one that learned Nahuatl…I had never heard it except when I went to Cancun. But we are learning it here and we are regaining our roots here. Xinatchtli, is an Aztec word for the moment when a seed germinates and when the seed is about to burst. We don’t know what can come from it—it can be a beautiful flower, it could be a beautiful tree. It’s that magical moment where our students can grow to be somebody super strong, somebody for New Mexico, somebody for our country, somebody who can change what we’re seeing. Over the last two years while we’ve been locked down, we’ve seen the ugliest part of humanity. Historically, it’s always been ugly, but now with social media, it’s right in our faces. Here in Doña Ana we are trying to reconnect with the earth, with our roots. Our school is a rainbow. Everybody is welcome—not just Mexicanos, not just Hispanos, not just Black or Indigenous or yellow or green, everyone is welcome at our school. And I’m really blessed to be here. Thank you for your time and for being here.
Dr. Tim Hand: Good afternoon. I’m Tim. I’m from Las Cruces, but my family is from Grant County. Several generations ago we had a little dairy farm. On my dad’s side, we’re from Southeastern New Mexico where we were a small little farming family there and we found our way to Las Cruces. I actually just got back to town a couple months ago, I’d been up in Santa Fe for five years serving as the Deputy Secretary of Education for the state of New Mexico. Since August, I’ve been working with the schools here as the Las Cruces Public SchoolChief of Staff. For me, that means working with the day-to-day operations of Las Cruces Public Schools. I am happy to be here to talk about both our blessings and our challenges that we have here in Las Cruces Public Schools. I was a high school coach here for 15 years at Centennial and Las Cruces and Mayfield high schools. Coaching taught me to lean on strengths: strengths of individuals, strengths of the community, strengths of the human condition. It really taught me human beings learn through trial and error, and through experiences and experiential learning. I’m a strong advocate for students to get their hands on their learning and through art as our hosts have talked about here. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Erica Surova: My name is Erica Surova and I’m the director for the Center of Community Analysis at New Mexico State University. At our center we partner with different community organizations like Ngage New Mexico, the SUCCESS Partnership, Anna, Age Eight Institute, Resilience Leaders, and lots of other people in the room today. We gather and centralize data that has to do with education and health equity— to inform each other and the community about what is important so that we can have better outcomes for children and families. My background in education started when I was in my twenties. I moved to Mexico and was teaching English and traveled around Latin America and South America, taught in California, and then in New Mexico. I had students from all different types of backgrounds; some have very little education at all, all the way up to masters’ degrees and PhDs. Seeing the variety of different backgrounds people have inspired me to go back to school and get a degree in sociology, education, and geography, and led me to my career now. It is a pleasure to be here with you all and these other great panelists.
Dr. Dulcinea Lara: I am Dulcinea Lara. I am a mother, I am from this area, I am also a professor at New Mexico State University. I’m really excited to announce that we are starting a Borderland and Ethnic Studiesdepartment [at NMSU] after 52 years! I am engaged in education in many different facets. I am working with the New Mexico Public Education Department to write new social studies lessons that include all the incredible voices from the entire state. There is so much work to do because it has been very flat for many hundreds of years. So that’s been really fulfilling, working with school districts all across the Southern part of the state from Carlsbad to Cliff, New Mexico to Gadsden and here at LCPS. We have teachers from Truth or Consequencesand Ruidoso. We get together and we talk and get to know each other and we make a list of all the history lessons that we didn’t learn as New Mexico students. I am also a creator of a museum exhibit that showed here in 2017 and now we’re going to Bernalillo next month, so I’m working on didactic text and getting that museum exhibit ready. I’m part of the founding group of the Southern New Mexico Equity Forum and really proud to be on the Board of Directors of Ngage New Mexico doing incredible work for kindergarten through everyone. I’m a sixth-generation person from this area, before it was called New Mexico, before it was part of the United States. I’m also from a farm, so it’s also beautiful and too rare to hear that we’re focusing on rural education. That really warms my heart on a personal level. There is so much incredible talent here in our small communities. Nice to meet everyone!
Frank Lopez: Thank you all. As you can see, we’ve got panelists with some deep experience, roots, and educations, and they all come from different places. So, a quick question to begin the conversation: from your perspective, what is the state of education in our community?
JR-T: I’m a product of Albuquerque Public Schools. I went to middle school here, went to high school in Albuquerque, and college (go Lobos!). I did okay. I had support from my parents. I also know that when I started teaching in an elementary school in Albuquerque, a lot of the kids were the babies of my peers. I was teaching a lot of my peers how to parent even though I wasn’t a parent then. One of the things that inspired me to become a kindergarten teacher was talking to my mentor who was a high school teacher and she had many issues (this was thirty years ago) and she knew that the kids in high school weren’t up to speed with math. So, she went back to kindergarten and said, “I’m going to teach them those skills in kindergarten” and that’s where it all begins. Unfortunately, we continue to be behind. This weekend we had a planning session with our school and with some of our community members and I told the superintendent, “we’re behind because of COVID” and he said, “we’re all behind and we were behind before COVID.” To me, that’s something we want to address at our school by teaching the parents English as a Second Language or teaching Spanish or Nahuatl. We have many parents who are interested in learning Spanish. We’re teaching how to be proud and how not to get behind and not to be embarrassed to ask for help. So, for me as a student from this state, as someone who grew up and did okay, I want to make sure everybody doesn’t do just okay but succeeds—if they want to be farmers, that they’re successful at it, if they want to be teachers, that they’re successful at it, if they want to fix cars, that they’re successful at it. Learn how to read, learn how to write, learn how to think. But we’re having issues with that. We’re not doing a good job of that, not for lack of passion but just because we’ve been behind for so many years that we’re still trying to catch up.
TH: Thank you for the question. That’s a big one. I don’t know how much time you guys have. I’d first like to zoom out for context and zoom in for urgency. Zooming out, the state of education in the early 1900s, around 1912 [the year New Mexico became a state], about half the people in our society in the United States went to school. So, for school-aged children between about 5 and 17, about half of those found their way to a school somewhere. Even though the nation was steeped in inequity, racism, and societal ills, those kids found their way to school.
Nowadays, about half of students (and some have an easier time than others) find their way to college in New Mexico. So, in the context of things, schools are better than they’ve ever been. Here in Las Cruces in 2008, our graduation rate was 44%. Last year, our graduation rate was 86%, which is above the national average. In that amount of time, the number of kids who are able to navigate the system and have that valuable credential has nearly doubled since 2008. So, zooming out, things are as good as they’ve ever been. But then zooming in for urgency, we’re nowhere near where we need to be. The gap in achievement for those students who are Hispanic is still there. And last I checked, 86% is not 100 and those 86% aren’t as prepared as they need to be able to thrive in a postsecondary environment, in the workforce, or as the leader of a family.
I’ll frame this around the second law of thermodynamics: entropy. You all know about entropy? When you leave here today, know that entropy means that things fall apart. It’s just a law of the universe. Things have fallen apart. We’re in this chaos swirl right now and physics tells us that it’s going to take less energy to put things back together the way it should be rather than put it back together the way it was. We have a giant opportunity in New Mexico right now. There’s federal money, state money, non-recurring money, and we have the opportunity to build an educational system that meets the needs of all students. And I don’t sleep right now because I think we’re almost to the point where we might miss it. We’re rushing to put things back together exactly how they were and it breaks my heart. I hope we can leave here today standing up and agreeing to not let that happen. Things are better than they’ve ever been but nowhere near where they need to be.
DL: I want to piggyback off of what Dr. Torres said in her introduction, that we have been existing in a model of inevitability and deficit and that we’re the fiftieth in the country and we’re not prepared and the statistics are dire. I agree that we’re at a real moment of urgency. However, we got here by design.
Those who are sitting at the back table can probably see out the window a mountain called Tortugas Mountain. Just last week, the Las Cruces City Council passed an acknowledgement that we are Piro-Manso-Tiwa people here and that we are descendants of people in the Pueblo Revolution who rejected colonialism in the 1600s. In Mesilla where the dinner is happening tonight, that was a town, a refugee town for Mexican people at the end of the US-Mexico War in 1850 who didn’t want to become United States citizens but rather go back to Mexico and live in Mesilla. That’s a revolutionary act of pride. Then if you go fifteen miles down the road, you’ll find a town called Vado. That’s a community that consisted of African-American migrants who came from Georgia to escape slavery and Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan. They became entrepreneurs and farmers. We are actually in a region of heroes, of business people, of geniuses. So, when Dr. Hand mentions that there are resources to be invested here, they’re going to be well spent. My students are incredible.
The state of education is one where we haven’t envisioned something different and we’re really sticking to the status quo. I just hope we can ride this wave and recognize there’s so much power here.
LC: The community that I’m working very closely with is envisioning how we tackle those limitations that are by design. But instead of just saying, “we are resisting, we are making the difference, we are moving forward little by little,” I’m optimistic, I’m faithful, I’m grateful to be here. I see the change. We are moving forward little by little. We have taken some big steps and have moved the needle a little bit. All over the world, we are moving forward, relearning and readapting to a new era in education. Parents never imagined that they would become computer literate and would be accessing online classes. I have heard on my trips all over the pain from the Black community, the pain from the Native community, the pain from our communities here of Mexicans or Latinos, or all those who we can name minorities. But that pain also has a lot of resilience. I want to really push down that path and insist that we are resilient and we are here. We never died. We were working and were so busy and so shy. But we’re moving. We’re coming up.
We all are learning. Our parents are learning how hard it is to be a teacher. We’re all starting to use the data that’s out there, like we’re doing with our culture. Our culture used to be in museums—only rocks, our only colorful things that were from the past. But we are bringing this to the present in order to move forward to the future. We won’t move unless we grasp the ancestral knowledge that is available to us all over the world.Wherever we go we have the spiral. Wherever we go, we have the directions. We honor earth. The Native community is at the front in many ways right now, in education as well. Just keep an eye on our elders and those teachings.
MT: I was in a conversation the other day with students from the Barrel College of Medicine here in town. We watched a TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called “The Danger of a Single Story.” Adichie was saying that what you understand about a situation depends on where you start the story. So, if you think about the history of the United States, if you’re telling the story of European arrival and Native resistance, if you start the story with the Indians’ arrows, you have one understanding, but if you start it with the colonists arriving, it tells another story. One of the things that worries me—and I’m a huge data fan and a super fan of Erica Surova and the way she thinks about data and uses data—when we look at the state of education, we always look at data like graduation rates or reading. And that’s important information. But when I hear the things that Lucía is saying, and read about what Dulcinea studies, if we start the story back at what people are told when they are children, what they believe about themselves, what they believe about the institutions they’re attending, what their parents believe, it’s a different story about the status of education in New Mexico. I do believe the way that Erica and Tim think about data and the way that we talk about it in this community actually gets at some of those stories and gives us a different picture of education in New Mexico.
FL: I once heard a quote: the day that lions are able to write the story, we’ll get a whole new perspective. Up until now, we’ve only gotten the perspective of the hunters. I love the way you’ve phrased that – because where did the story start and what is the dominant story and who’s teaching the story?
ES: I don’t have much to add because everyone else has done a beautiful job of describing it. I agree, I think we have a lot of assets in Doña Ana County. I got involved in this work locally as a data person back in 2016. And just since 2016, I feel like we’ve come together as a community to look at data — the good, the bad, and the ugly. And the positive stories about where we’re at. That’s a huge asset. We’ve identified areas where we need to improve and also areas that are strengths. I’m really proud to be a part of the community here and everything we’ve done.
FL: I just have one more question and then we’ll open to up to other folks who want to ask a question of our panelists. If you had a magic wand and money and politics were not obstacles, what would you wish for students in the community?
TH: It’s a very short answer: wellness in all of its forms. The way that I’m starting to think about this is: imagine for a second that someone started to market and sell air. Wouldn’t that freak us out, right? We need that to live! How can someone own the air? And you can only have part of it and you have to hustle to get it? Some people have more air than others. Does that sit well? And then you think about things like food and healthcare and access to education and clean environments to live. But for some reason for those things, it’s okay in our society to have “haves” and “have-nots.” We need to think of wellness as air and focus as a society on the wellness of our children; that’s when kids learn is when those needs are met and those needs are met equitably. So, if I had a magic wand, it would be wellness for our community.
LC: Our school is in its third year of operation and when we were presenting to the commissioners of education our proposal, during that process, we always heard things that were “risk factors”: being a child-centered school that has parents involved. We heard that we should not consider parents as partners because they are “clients.” And none of those things were in our application. Imagine being a school that doesn’t center the needs of the child and the family! We have the parents become advocates because all of us are trying to serve the children—our future leaders. It was a real negotiation and [the commissioners] said, “As long as you present results and your results are rigorous, attainable, and measurable.” Numbers! Statistics! They want cold facts. But will that happen? Who really knows. I want teachers that have the joy to teach and students that have the joy to learn.
MT: I thought of this from the higher education perspective. My dream would be that people in Southern New Mexico don’t have to choose between providing for their family and pursuing higher education, and that’s what we see again and again and again.
JRT: Because we are a new school and we are running out of space, if I had a magic wand for Xinatchtli, it would for a building where I can put my art teacher. Right now, she’s in the hallway. We’re sharing offices… the nurse’s office is in Lucía’s office. I would love to have a library for the kids. We don’t have quality books in Spanish and Nahuatl and that’s what we’re teaching. We’re working and doing our jobs but we still need a lot of materials, space, and books. We need a counselor. We don’t have a counselor or a full-time nurse. It’s not just us. Most schools don’t have a full-time counselor or nurse or art andmusic teachers, or even an organizer to help the community. We’re fortunate to have Lucía but we are a small community. But that wellness piece! We are a Title 1 school so all of our babies are given breakfast, lunch, and dinner every single day. But counseling and that other piece – the heart piece — is what we’re working on, so if I had a magic wand, that’s what it would be.
ES: I agree with Dr. Torres. I think free childcare, period, free access to early childhood education, and getting teachers paid a lot more
DL: I am sad to see that Daisy Maldonado left. She was sitting here earlier. She’s the Director of Empowerment Congress of Doña Ana County [and one of our panelists on Thursday]. She came to me two years ago and asked me, as a resident of Berino, which is a colonia south of here, what do you think the community needs? She was thinking about basics — books and all the things that have been mentioned on the panel. And I said, “how about an art festival or a kite festival or a music festival?” I grew up in that community and there was not anything like that. People need to have their imaginations sparked. We definitely need the content about who we are and where we come from and that’s completely fine and we don’t need to change that, but there needs to be art and beauty. So, when I heard that the Thoma Foundation—an art foundation—was interested in investing in education and all of you thinking about education innovatively; we need to spark that imagination. Education needs to be fun, vibrant, colorful, and beautiful. We ended up hiring two punk rock muralists and we worked with nine girls from age five to a senior in high school and they had never seen anything like this before. We ended up stripping a wall and painting a mural in Berino. The ideas all came from the kids; there’s a ten-foot-high ladybug, there’s a roadrunner, there’s rainbows, and that’s what the kids wanted to see. To this day, I run into the parents and they want to know what’s next and what else we can do. I think there are many of us who are making the basics happen. We have to go beyond the basics and spark that swagger. That would be my magic wish.
FL: Does anyone has a question for our panel?
Lori Martinez: Hearing Dulcinea describe this idea of sparking joy and creativity; how do we accomplish that? What are some other ways we could make that happen? What would the system look like if sparking creativity was baked into the way we did things?
MT: That’s a great question, Lori. I am going to talk about two things. I’m an administrator and I look at things administratively. I think administrators would act differently. And this answer goes a little bit towards our political landscape. One thing I absolutely hate is dog-and-pony shows. Whenever we’re asked to present something, that just doesn’t get us anywhere. The kind of things we’re presenting aren’t related to the problems that we’re dealing with. Erica presented some data yesterday about an effort at DACC that’s alarming to me but it’s a real issue and something that we need to address. I would change the way we testify in front of the legislature and the kinds of arguments we make for people. We would think more broadly about students. Right now, it’s about how many students are being enrolled. But instead, we would think of our campuses as community centers and would be acting more in the community. I had a conversation with Daisy Maldonado a few weeks ago and she said something like, “Well what are you doing in the community?” And institutions say things like “We’ve got six locations across Doña Ana County. That’s a lot of locations.” And she said again, “What are you doing in the community?” I have to take that to heart. The idea of the campus and the community, and the community on our campuses would look different. They would look vibrant in the ways that Dulcinea was talking about.
TH: Well said, Dr. Torres. When I talked about not putting things back together the way they were, one of the things on my mind is that I’ve never seen a kid sell popcorn for a spelling test. But all of a sudden when you want to do a supercomputing challenge or you want to do a music festival, or you want to play in band, you’re going door to door to try to gather money for that. I’d like to see the music festival be the class. The supercomputing challenge is the final exam and school is about experiences and math and literacy and social studies are just things you do along the way. There’s a reason that poorer states don’t do quite as well on these standardized tests and it’s because there’s an opportunity gap. Our students don’t have the opportunity to go travel and do hands-on like some of their more affluent peers. I’d like for school to be about the activities and then academics and literacy are just tools to get us there. If we could flip the script a little bit, it would go a long way. Kids get engaged in student government; kids get engaged in chess club. Kids get engaged in supercomputing challenges. How is that extra? How is that the thing that kids only get to do because they’ve raised the money? I believe now is the time to flip the script, but I’m in quicksand. It’s so hard to get anyone to think about anything different than what their experience was in school. I’m losing the battle now so I’m asking for help to flip the script on that.
FL: Any other questions?
Sam Ritter: One of the ways that a lot of us funders work in education is through scholarships. For every scholarship to a private four-year university that you offer, you could send 100 students to a community college, and a state college is somewhere in the middle. For students in Southern New Mexico and Doña Ana County, what is the right ratio for where we should be thinking about sending scholarship dollars for high school graduates?
MT: I don’t know that I have an answer right now for that. You defined what the issue is. You can spend a lot of dollars to send a few students to college or you can spend the same amount of dollars to send a lot of students. Those institutions all have different advantages and benefits and offer different things to different types of students. One of the things we do know from a series of studies is that there are some students who are clearly DACC students because of what we offer and some students who are clearly NMSU students. And then there is some overlap and that gets a little muddy. But one thing we do know is that community college students who transfer to a four-year university do as well if not better than students who start at universities. So, in many ways it’s a good investment. Of course, I’m a community college president so I would make that argument.
But while I have the microphone… I’ve been thinking about the deficit model and what an impact it generates. I’ve been thinking a lot about the tools and resources that we have for students. We all (people who are resourced), have a network of resources available to us like tax incentives, like subsidies. For poor people we call them “entitlements,” but we don’t call them that for people who have money and resources. We’ve been trying to think, how do we change the language and say to students, “look we have this set of tools for you that are acceptable for you and we have tools for other people, too.” Because when we tell students, “look, we have this resource for you,” they always come back with, “well there’s someone who needs it more than I do.” We hear that all the time in Southern New Mexico; I don’t know if you hear it in Northern New Mexico. And part of it is humility and a generosity of spirit, part of it is being shamed for generations and generations for accepting those things. But, most of us don’t feel shamed for the kinds of things that we accept that come our way in the networks we belong to. I’ve been thinking about how we can change the language so that people recognize these as tools, and not as things that we give to poor people.
Terra Winter: The Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico and DACC has this wonderful partnership where we have a scholarship that we match dollar for dollar. [hard to distinguish]. We also have a scholarship for second- and third-year students to help them get out of school. There are a lot of traditional scholarships that help students go from high school to college or to community college, but we’re really focused on helping students get out and get into the workforce. If, for example, we’ve got a senior that can’t make it through without funding, if we can help get them out that’s huge for students and we’ve seen donors get really engaged with this too.
FL: Thank you, Terra. Can we give our panelists a warm thank you? [applause]
Transcript prepared by Ashlyn Lee and Sarah Rovang. Spanish translations by Kathryn Santner.