Michelle Masiwemai takes a selfie with some of the children she cared for at Best of the Southwest day care center in Las Cruces. Michelle Masiwemai — like many early childhood workers — is a mom. But her job at a Las Cruces home-based child care center didn’t pay enough to support her 8-year-old daughter, who lives with her parents in Guam while she and her fiancé try to get on firmer financial footing. The daughter of two educators, including a kindergarten teacher who now teaches early childhood education at the college level, Masiwemai was raised in a family of 10 children.
“My whole life I’ve been around children. I was a babysitter.
Valeria Holloway, owner of Best of the Southwest Day Care Center in Las Cruces, teaches preschool. She uses a curriculum that she learned in Virginia but is hoping to get a contract for New Mexico PreK. Don’t call her a babysitter. That’s a teenager who wants $50 and pizza to watch your children on date night.
Valeria Holloway has taken care of children professionally for nearly 20 years. She started in the business, as many young mothers do, because the cost of child care was so high that it would have eaten up most of her salary, and she preferred to stay home with her new child.
The state didn’t spend enough, and it still doesn’t have a plan. That, in essence, is what attorneys in the state’s landmark Martinez/Yazzie education lawsuit argue in a legal motion that seeks concrete steps to guarantee Native Americans, English learners, disabled and low-income students a sufficient education.
Wilhelmina Yazzie, lead plaintiff in the case, has two high schoolers in the Gallup McKinley district. She said even after the state pumped nearly half a billion into the public schools, her sons aren’t seeing it in the classroom. There are no new textbooks or computers, teachers are still providing resources out of pocket and classes that reflects their Navajo culture are still lacking. “I know a lot of our teachers, they do want to help our children.
Lt. Gov. Howie Morales visits Las Cruces on a recent October morning to talk about his after-school learning initiative. Lt. Gov. Howie Morales was running late to an interview at the IHOP in Las Cruces.
His job these days puts him on the road a lot, but he still likes to drop his kids off at school in Silver City. That connection is something the former coach, special education teacher and state senator wants to keep with education in general.
“Education is always going to be at the heart of what I do because that’s why I got into public service,” he said on a recent October morning during a visit to Las Cruces, where he talked up a summit planned for Tuesday in Albuquerque on after-school and out-of-school time activities that would strengthen kids’ connections to school and provide more learning opportunities. As a senator, Morales got involved in the full spectrum of education, from preschool to higher education. He credited early educators in Grant County for making him understand a successful higher education system started with strong early education such as home visiting and preschool.
Images and video for this story were produced by the Las Cruces Sun-News. The sign on the door of Claudia Sanchez’s fourth grade class at Mesquite Elementary says “Welcome to Spanish Week.”
The plastic-covered sheet signals to students that this week they’re learning math, science, reading and other subjects in Spanish. It also signals that this isn’t your typical bilingual classroom.
This is one of Gadsden Independent School District’s dual language immersion classrooms, where students spend half their time in Spanish and the other half in English, and where the goal is not just to become fluent in English, but to become biliterate. In other words, to read, write, listen and speak in two languages.
Mesquite Elementary students switch back and forth between English and Spanish each week as part of a dual language bilingual program. This sign lets them know what language they will be learning and speaking in.
What does New Mexico want to achieve with its efforts in birth to age five programs, including standing up a brand new Early Childhood Education and Care Department? That’s the fundamental question Betsy Cahill, a professor of early childhood education, wants to answer. “We’re not just getting them ready for kindergarten; we’re getting them ready for life,” Cahill said.
Cahill, who is also co-director of the teacher preparation program at New Mexico State University, was taking part in the first round of community conversations taking place across New Mexico to assess gaps in early childhood programs and to come up with a strategic plan for the new department.
She had ideas on how to graduate more early childhood educators and keep them in the field, such as changing when students take qualifying exams and giving them practical experience early on so they know what they’re getting into. More than 80 people whose work touches young children attended the gathering Wednesday at Las Cruces City Hall. Among the crowd were brand-new Head Start teachers and experienced preschool directors, child care providers and foster parents, mental health specialists and educational nonprofits.
Participants were asked to identify what was working — and not — in areas such as funding, workforce development and training, New Mexico PreK and Head Start, and infant and toddler care.
Newly appointed Education Secretary Ryan Stewart, left, visits the Native American Community Academy in Albuquerque with the school’s founder, Deputy Secretary Kara Bobroff, on Aug. 13. (Public Education Department via Twitter)
If classroom teachers and education advocates could sit down with new Education Secretary Ryan Stewart, they would tell him to just listen. That’s the consistent message from two teachers at Las Cruces Public Schools – one who has taught for seven years, and another for 30 years, and two leaders of education nonprofits — one a member of the Transform Education New Mexico coalition of that formed out of the Yazzie Martinez education lawsuit, and another a former director of outreach in the Martinez administration’s Public Education Department. Stewart, who is African American, and was the regional director of a nonprofit that works to improve education for low-income and minority students, takes the helm weeks after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham fired Karen Trujillo from the post after just six months on the job.
Last year, after a young man shot up Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, Las Cruces Public Schools added security guards to its elementary schools.
It had already begun fortifying school buildings in response to earlier mass shootings.
As the school year starts in Las Cruces, it is drill season. Over the next month, once a week students and teachers will practice lock-down, shelter in place, evacuation and fire drills, said Sean Barham, associate director of operations for public safety at LCPS.
But looming over them will be Saturday’s slaughter less than 50 miles down the interstate in El Paso, a city where many have strong family or cultural ties and where many of the victims looked like the students returning to school this week in Doña Ana County. Barham knows this year’s drills could evoke deeper anxiety. “You’ve got to give them the skills they need,” he said. “You also have to balance it out because you want kids to want to come to school and feel safe.”
Security measures have been increased at Las Cruces Public Schools campuses in the wake of school shootings across the U.S. This notice is at Jornada Elementary School’s front entrance.
A toddler waits while her companions finish an Easter cake for students at Bright Beginnings Child Development Center in Jal, NM. More New Mexico families will qualify for child care assistance without being wait-listed, and could stay longer on the program under proposed rules posted Monday by the Children Youth and Families Department. Under current eligibility limits put in place in the wake of a lawsuit against CYFD, families can qualify and stay on the child care program if they make less than two times the federal poverty level, but not one dollar more. The proposal would take the exit point up to 250% of the poverty level.
To put the changes in perspective, a single mother with two children could make up to $42,660 per year and qualify, and could keep getting child care assistance with increasing co-pays until she earned $53,325. About 90 percent of child care assistance recipients are single-parent households.
There is still no secretary of Early Childhood Education and Care, but the process to launch New Mexico’s newest department is up and running with help from a $5.4 million federal preschool grant. That’s what lawmakers heard Thursday at a meeting of the Legislative Education Study Committee. “We joke that the stars aligned when this grant came about,” said Alejandra Rebolledo Rea, director of Early Childhood Services for the Children Youth and Families Department. The one-year planning grant is meant to create a comprehensive early education plan for New Mexico children from birth to age 5. When it was approved by the federal government in March, talk immediately turned to the idea of using the grant for the new early childhood department being debated in the Legislature.