If you’ve seen a community school, you’ve seen a community school.
This unique mantra is intentional, said David Greenberg, executive director of the Center for Community Schools at the National Education Association of New Mexico.
Just as the needs of every community are different, so are every community school.
Although each of New Mexico’s 80 community schools offers different services, their missions are the same.
Greenberg said the mission is to “strategically leverage partnerships with local businesses and faith-based organizations or non-profit organizations or different healthcare providers to meet the vision of needs established by communities.”
What he means is that if a community needs it, you will find it in a community school, with services accessible to all beyond the school term.
In one town, a community school helped facilitate the installation of solar panels in homes that would otherwise not have access to electricity or running water; in another city, the community school has become a pantry; and in yet another town, a mother found a job through contacts at the community school.
And if a community school doesn’t have what you need, a staff member can find a service to help you. Once these basic needs are met, the community can thrive, advocates say.
âSome people need help with food and clothing, some people need help with housing, some people need help with electricity. We really tailor the approach at the individual level, âsaid Victoria Dominguez, coordinator of independent schools in Cuba, one of the most at-risk school districts in the state.
Advocates say community school strategies are helping the state meet its guidelines in the 2018 Yazzie / Martinez lawsuit, which found at-risk children in New Mexico are not getting the same level of education as their peers.
âThe first step to truly reinventing education is to change who is at the table and in the room making decisions, and doing the deep listening that we need to do to understand. [where] people are at that time, âGreenberg said.
Lucia Carrillo and her three young children – ages 8, 5 and 2 – live in Arrey, a small town south of Truth or Consequences. Carrillo is also caring for her 15-year-old niece, while working on her degree in early childhood education at DoÃ±a Ana Community College and New Mexico State University.
Carrillo has seen the small town come together since Arrey Elementary School became a community school in 2019.
âMore and more people are coming out for help and asking for help,â she said.
The community school has fewer than 100 elementary school students enrolled, according to community school coordinator Yolanda Tafoya. However, Tafoya said she provides services to more than 180 families in the area.
Tafoya said she learned more about the community in the year she was the Arrey Community School coordinator than in the past 12 years working for Truth or Consequences municipal schools.
âThese home visits, to come in and see where the students live and what their needs are, has opened my eyes immensely,â Tafoya said. “To know that these are their struggles, [these are] some of the obstacles they may encounter. The reason we’re here is all about the students, helping them be successful. The only way to be successful in school is to make sure they have all of the basic needs covered. “
For residents of rural communities, these needs can be myriad and varied, from food and clothing to healthcare, the Internet and utilities.
When Tafoya realized internet access was a huge problem for Arrey families, the community school provided computers, wireless hotspots, and other internet services. The school is also working on creating a computer lab inside the school for all members of the community, Tafoya said.
Tafoya also worked for years to establish a pantry in town, which she has now done in part thanks to the community school label.
âInstead of being an entity or an individual or a church, we were able to establish ourselves under the school district,â she said.
Tafoya now receives weekly food trucks from the Roadrunner Food Bank as well as donations from local Arrey and Hatch stores nearby. She walks dirt roads to deliver food to 160 families – 600 people – every week.
Cuba Independent Schools also provides food to residents through its community school. The school building now has clothing shelves that families can access.
âThe problem with Cuba is that we are kind of in the middle of nowhere,â said Dominguez, the community school coordinator. âWe don’t have a lot of resources, so rather than dwell on the fact that we don’t have a lot of resources, we just created our own. “
Dominguez said one of the families who use the services of the community school lives about 45 minutes away. Often times, the family’s grandmother comes to collect food or clothes for the 23 people living in this house and collapses crying in gratitude.
Building that trust with the community is key to providing resources, Dominguez said.
“[Weâre] let people know that we are in the same boat, we are going to go through this together, we are here to support you, âshe said.
Dominguez said there were many families in the area who had neither electricity nor running water. She said some have generators, but they are noisy and expensive to maintain.
The week of August 30, community schools in Cuba helped facilitate the installation of solar panels in the homes of seven families, a program funded by the New Mexico Senate and the Department of Indigenous Education.
âYou just let us know what you need from us, and if we don’t have the resources, we’ll find the resources for you,â Dominguez said.
Community schools are also found in cities where schools can rely more on partnerships with already existing organizations.
In Las Cruces public schools, the five community schools focus on awareness raising through after-school programs.
MacArthur Community Elementary offers child care, tutoring, professional development courses for staff, technology courses for adults, and after-school programs for students. MacArthur also provided food, haircuts, school supplies and COVID-19 vaccines to community members.
Families in LCPS community schools also receive free annual dental cleanings.
Likewise, at Sierra Community Middle School in Roswell, community members receive free dental cleanings at local offices and free eye exams and glasses at Walmart’s Vision Clinic.
Sierra also has a brand new school health center that is open to general exams and behavioral health services.
âWe have just launched community schools in Sierra,â said Sierra Middle Community Schools Coordinator Kristen Salyards. âI tell our leadership team that here at school, when we do this – not if we do this, but when we do this – we are going to change lives. It has the potential and the possibility to change the lives of our students, their siblings and their parents. “
Of the state’s 80 community schools, 33 receive state and federal funding, according to the New Mexico Department of Public Education’s most recent report on community schools.
All 33 are funded by the New Mexico Community Schools Act, which Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed in April 2019.
Community schools are often located in areas of extreme poverty where services are needed most. Of the state-funded community schools, 16 are primary schools, six are middle schools, and six are high schools. The other five are charter schools serving grades K-8, K-12, K-2 and 6-12.
Through the Community Schools Act, $ 2 million has been set aside for community school initiatives in New Mexico. Schools that are accepted for the grant receive $ 150,000 each year for a three-year period to start.
The idea is that after this three-year period, the community school will have enough roots and can count on community partners and sponsors to continue its services.
In May, the Department of Public Education awarded 50 grants totaling $ 6.6 million to schools in New Mexico to plan or implement the community schools strategy during the 2021-2022 school year.
For the year 2021-2022, 21 new community schools were created and received planning grants ranging from $ 32,000 to $ 50,000.
According to Amanda Barela, LCPS District Community Schools Coordinator, there is a sixth community school underway in the district which will be either Mesilla Park Elementary or University Hills Elementary. She said the two would eventually become community schools, but the district is struggling to decide which one gets the funding through a $ 600,000 grant from the WK Kellogg Foundation.
Other funding can come from partners like Kellogg or other state and federal grants.
The longevity potential of community schools is something New Mexico is good at, said Jose MuÃ±oz, director of the Coalition for Community Schools, a national group that advocates and supports the development of community schools. There are over 5,000 community schools in the United States, the majority in New York and California.
MuÃ±oz said New Mexico stands out because of the joint power agreements that have been established between cities and districts to support community schools. Albuquerque Public Schools were the first to sign an agreement in 2007, the ABC Community Schools Partnership. The district now has 34 community schools.
In 2018, Las Cruces and the Las Cruces public schools signed an agreement modeled on the one in Albuquerque.
âA superintendent changes, a mayor changes, a county director changes or something like that, but when you take the time and effort it takes to get a joint powers agreement, it doesn’t change because it is. recognized by the state and you are now an official entity, âMuÃ±oz said. “We are built for the long haul if we can get more joint partnership agreements that include tribal nations [and] how they work with surrounding counties and cities.
More community schools will be established in New Mexico in the coming years.
In July, President Joe Biden proposed an increase in funding for community schools from $ 30 million to $ 443 million.
MuÃ±oz said his organization aims for 25% of all public schools in the United States to be community schools by 2025. He said this will create a tipping point in education.
âOnce we hit that 25 percent, he will resist any position or any politician,â MuÃ±oz said.