Raise your hand if you’d like to hit the easy button for education right now. Goodness knows after the last year we had, we could use an easy button.

Now that that short-lived fantasy is over, let’s imagine we live in a community where all children attend thriving public schools that enable them to learn to the best of their abilities and encourage them to be their best selves, regardless of socioeconomic status. The quality of education and student achievement would be high in every school, regardless of where it is located or where their families live and work.

Let’s also take our dream a little further and give our educators the support and resources to provide students with the time, space and opportunities to explore and find their passions.

Brace yourself, here is the reality: Our public school system has the talent, know-how and, most-importantly, the will to make our imaginary public school system real for every child. It’s the insurmountable factors that occur outside of the classroom that are keeping our students from achieving their true potential. Sure, there is room to grow and improve, but students must be ready to learn or it’s all for nought.

I can hear the responses: “That’s preposterous! That’s impossible! The schools must do more.”

Ten years ago, I would have agreed with you. However, a tremendous amount of hard work has been happening in our schools, and they are very well-positioned to provide excellence in education.

The headlines have become more encouraging, with an 86.3 percent graduation rate in 2020, an increase of 8.6 percent. The Legislature is consistently funding larger education budgets with tax dollars. We’ve learned high-stakes testing is not all that matters, which has helped get educators excited about teaching again. Santa Feans have voted positively for bonds to purchase and maintain technology and to build and maintain our school buildings.

But here’s the dilemma of making our imaginary schools a reality. Tragically, not every student arrives at school on time, with a full belly, ready to learn and having been read to the night before. Along with asking educators to do more with less, society is also asking families to do more with less. Parents and guardians work long and odd hours, experience food and housing insecurity, lack dependable and affordable child care, and may think they’re already doing enough by making sure their child attends school.

Yes, school buses are provided, breakfast and lunch are served at school, and there are truancy laws in place, but those are simply stopgaps that do not address the root cause. Our families, our neighbors and our students need more from us and from each other. They need us to show up and support the neighborhood school and the school across town.

That means all of us.

I must confess, before my daughter started school, I didn’t invest much time or energy in our public schools. Besides buying a random raffle ticket or wrapping paper for a school fundraiser from a co-worker, the only thing I did was read the headlines and pass judgement on public schools. Things got real when it was time for kindergarten. We did all the things parents do. We visited both private and public schools, talked to friends and family about their experiences, weighed the pros and cons, and ultimately ended-up where we started, the public school where we are zoned based on where we live — imagine that.

Fast-forward seven years, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Thankfully, the universe saved us from our poorly informed assumptions about our public school. The only thing I would change about our experience would be getting more involved much sooner, like when my daughter was 6 months old. I would have attended community and parent meetings at our school and other schools, followed school board meetings and education policy more closely, met other families at the school, met the teachers much earlier, and maybe even have volunteered for school events.

I’m not suggesting the last seven years have all been roses and sunshine, but the experiences, even the uncomfortable and challenging ones, have given me a greater understanding of our schools and helped me figure out where I fit in as a parent who works full time. The experiences also have provided opportunities for my daughter to learn how to resolve sticky situations positively.

Through her education, I now have many wonderful friends and advisors in my life I would have never met if that first PTA president had not coaxed me into helping at the first event of the school year. In fact, several unlikely friends conspired to get me to write this column. Despite my insecurities, I took a deep breath and said yes anyway.

No one is perfect, and it may take multiple efforts and several schools to determine how best you can support our students. Forge ahead anyway. Get involved at your child’s school or your neighborhood school if you don’t have school-age children. Share your gifts and talents with our students and our community. We all have something to share and something to learn.

The ways you can help are endless. Please visit icpesantafe.org/partners for additional suggestions and resources to help navigate Santa Fe Public Schools. Then roll up your sleeves and help build the educational utopia that we all dream of and our students deserve. The future of our society depends on you.

April Gallegos is a parent of a child in Santa Fe Public Schools, where she has served as a Parent Teacher Association board member and on the School Advisory Council. She is a member of Santa Fe Public Schools’ Citizen Review Committee.

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