January will mark two years since Lynn Middle School in Las Cruces re-imagined itself. A walk around classrooms and its cafeteria reveals signs of the metamorphosis.
On any given weekday students drop in for healthy snacks or warm clothes in the school’s community room. Parents have access to computers, WiFi and office supplies to apply for jobs. Families and neighbors stop in for staples at a monthly food pantry operated by Roadrunner Food Bank.
Editor’s note: This column is part of NMID’s weekly newsletter. Sign up here. I’ve always loved that analogy from Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis that “states are the laboratories of democracy.” I like the notion that great ideas and different ways of doing things can bubble up from the bottom and change the way the world works. I was a young copy editor in San Jose, California, when a former roommate told me I should try this great new search engine, “Google,” to look for things on the internet. (OK, I can’t help myself.
Las Cruces City Councilor Kasandra Gandara has one big request for her partners in a new effort to tackle childhood trauma in Las Cruces and Doña Ana County: Ask every person they serve or interact with how many Adverse Childhood Experiences they’ve had. Gandara and a group of behavioral health providers, educators, community activists and health professionals hope to use that data to create a systemic approach to reducing childhood trauma, with the aim of combating child abuse in the community and improving children’s health, education and lives. Gandara was inspired for the project by the book “Anna, Age Eight: The Data-Driven Prevention of Childhood Trauma and Maltreatment,” which was based on the work of Katherine Ortega Courtney and Dominic Cappello at the New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department’s Protective Service Division. It chronicles the life and death of a child at her mother’s hands, while making the case that the smart use of data and community involvement can prevent childhood trauma. Gandara, who ended a 28 year social-work career as a CYFD county office manager, wants to use the solutions outlined in the book as a framework for Las Cruces to move awareness of ACEs beyond child advocates and emergency responders and into the general public so that they can help their community and families heal.
At its most idealistic, New Mexico’s citizen legislature system draws people with expertise and passion for their fields who serve so that they can make a difference for the state and for their constituents. That’s why I’m excited to talk with state Sen. Bill Soules, D-Las Cruces, and Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, about early childhood education in New Mexico. It’s the kick-off of New Mexico in Depth’s Coffee Chats series in 2018 that will explore important issues with informal talks at venues across the state. The event will be at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Beck’s Coffee House in Las Cruces. And we’ll be broadcasting the talk live on our Facebook page.
Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima has been hearing complaints and concerns from businesses throughout the process to increase his city’s minimum wage from the state minimum of $7.50 in 2014 to $10.10 an hour in 2019. There was a particular howl recently from the business community when a provision to index the minimum wage to inflation was scheduled to begin Jan. 1, 2018, something business operators and even the local school district was not prepared for because of an error in the ordinance’s drafting. The city council has since fixed the oversight. But child-care providers in particular have been bending Miyagishima’s ear because of fear over the effects on their payrolls and on parents who are receiving child-care subsidies.
Las Cruces city councilors unanimously voted Monday to affirm the city’s policy prohibiting police from questioning people about their immigration status unless doing so is necessary in a criminal investigation. A resolution, presented by Police Chief Jaime Montoya and City Attorney Jennifer Vega-Brown, affirmed the city’s current Human Rights ordinance as well as several existing policies of the police department which prohibit law enforcement officers from asking people to show proof of citizenship when responding to a domestic dispute, a traffic violation or other types of interactions with the public. Before voting for the resolution, city councilors focused their questions on policing and enforcement of federal immigration law. “We enforce criminal law, we do not enforce administrative law, which is immigration law,” Montoya explained to Councilor Gabriel Vasquez. Councilor Yvonne Flores questioned Montoya about procedures during routine traffic stops, particularly related to warrants for deportation violations, which she noted are federal felonies.
Amber Wallin, Kids Count director for New Mexico Voices for Children, flashed up a photo on a screen during her presentation to childhood advocates and elected leaders in Las Cruces for the first Southern New Mexico Kids Count conference on Thursday. Anyone of a certain age would recognize the black and white photo of a motley bunch of kids in baseball uniforms: The Bad News Bears. Wallin said people in New Mexico were tired of being those Bears, tired of hearing the same old stats: 49th in child well-being, 50th in education, 49th in community and family. Some were tuning out, becoming numb, or throwing up their hands because it didn’t seem like there was anything they could do to change the situation. What is her answer to that? “Policy matters,” she said.
Charlie Garcia is a bubbly 4-year-old with soft brown curls. Sitting down for a small group activity on a late-August afternoon at Alpha School in Las Cruces, she chatters with her teachers and friends. Sitting quietly nearby is Evelynn Aguirre McClure. Assistant teacher Brittany Polanco encourages the two girls and their classmate to build a house and fill it with drawings of their families. Using popsicle sticks, Polanco shows them how to make the outlines, flip the sticks over, glue them and then flip them back over so they stick to the paper.