Helping all kids ‘grow as they go’
If we come together as community, I believe we can ensure that every kid in New Mexico gets an excellent education.
During a recent trip to the state capitol building in Santa Fe, I paused to take in the image of our state seal. The New Mexico motto Crescit Eundo – or “It Grows as it Goes” – captured my attention. To me, this motto signifies the spirit of our state to grow stronger and to make progress toward a more prosperous future for all New Mexicans.
However, when reflecting on our motto through the lens of our state’s rising generation, it brings into focus a sobering reality for our disadvantaged kids. Indeed, an academic divide between New Mexico children, particularly along racial and socioeconomic lines, also “grows as it goes” in a troubling and tragic way.
Across our state, kids growing up in poverty, particularly on our Native reservations, simply aren’t getting the education they deserve. In fact, the most recent state data indicates that across every grade level, students from American Indian backgrounds are performing at least 20 percentage points below their more affluent peers.
In our Hispanic communities, the reality is strikingly similar – with graduation rates far below the state average and little investment to combat the extra challenges kid face.
In spite of this, we’re seeing promising proof points that lead me to an unshakable conviction that we can close this gap and ensure that all New Mexican students are prepared with an excellent education that will help them grow and prosper as they go through life. Schools and systems like Tse’ Yi’ Gai High School, the Laguna Department of Education and the Native American Community Academy are pointing the way with great leadership at all levels.
Work to eliminate educational inequity
At Teach For America, a nonprofit organization I’ve been a part of in New Mexico since 2005, our aim is to work alongside community efforts in our state to help ensure that one day, all children will have the opportunity to attain this excellent education. The organization recruits, trains and supports top college graduates and professionals who commit to teach for two years in public schools.
Today, more than 9,000 Teach For America corps members are teaching in 43 regions across the country.
For over 10 years, we’ve provided over 500 high-quality teachers and leaders to Northwestern New Mexico to partner with schools and communities to achieve this vision that every kid receives the best education possible.
Education runs in my family. My sister is a traditionally trained teacher in Colorado and my mom is a teacher-turned-principal in a low-income area of northern California who encouraged me to join Teach For America after her positive experience with teachers she hired from our program for her school.
Like most Teach For America teachers, I didn’t come from an education background. But after my experience teaching first grade on the Navajo Nation, and much like two-thirds of our nearly 24,000 alumni, I am still actively engaged in the work to eliminate educational inequity.
Since our launch in New Mexico in 2001, we’ve been grateful for the bipartisan support we’ve received from both the Richardson and Martinez administrations and from legislators across the state. In this era of partisanship around education reform, we’ve been proud – both nationally and locally – for the diversity of our support.
I’ll never forget the pride of one of our teachers after then-U.S. Rep. Tom Udall taught a guest lesson to her classroom in Gallup, or when Governor Martinez greeted a Zuni student government class after one of our teachers committed to bringing them into classrooms.
Additionally, since our Teach For America-New Mexico teachers work in schools on the Navajo Nation, the state has supported our efforts to improve education of Native students. To clarify some confusion and misinformation about the way our state Indian Education funds have been allocated: We invest these funds fully in training and ongoing support of our teachers who are working with our Native students – and we’re pleased that the state has continued to show bipartisan support for these efforts.
Teach For America is committed to being the top national recruiter of Native Americans into the field of education by 2015 and we are well on our way to this goal with a 21 percent increase in applicants over last year.
Let’s grow as we go in a positive direction
Our teachers, alongside their committed colleagues, are working with their students to achieve academic and life success. Last year, I was delighted that four of 13 classrooms with the most single-year growth on the New Mexico standards-based assessment were taught by Teach For America teachers. The students in these four classrooms, all located in rural reservation communities, outperformed every other classroom in every other community across our state.
We believe that achieving success for students requires collaboration and partnership between everyone in our communities. We’re excited to co-host our second-annual Four Corners Education Summit in Gallup this spring with UNM, Native American Community Academy, the New Mexico Public Education Department, Arizona State University and other organizations to bring students, families and others together for a dialogue on improving education, particularly for Native students.
We’re also excited to continue exchange knowledge with the University of New Mexico in Gallup, where our teachers take graduate-level classes and we’ve developed a hybrid program to share our best practices in education.
If we come together as community, I believe we can ensure that every kid in New Mexico gets an excellent education. Let’s grow as we go in a positive direction toward prosperity for our state and future success for all of our students.
Landon Mascareñaz has been the executive director of Teach For America – New Mexico since 2007, after teaching first grade for two years on the Navajo Nation. Landon graduated with a degree in International Affairs and Honors in Communication from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.
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