Sarah Amador-Guzman

Those of us who weathered 2020 without facing food or housing insecurity can consider ourselves lucky. We are among the 57 percent of New Mexicans who reported they could afford to pay for usual household expenses like food, rent/mortgage, car payments, medical expenses and student loans in December.

This is not the case for many others in our community. Children, in particular, are experiencing unprecedented levels of food insecurity, which is associated with lower educational attainment, increased disciplinary actions, lower test scores, developmental delays and reduced future economic mobility.

As the challenges of last year carry forward, I encourage you to think about your role in our communities’ recovery — and what that means for New Mexico’s children and their families.

Although every family is being affected by the pandemic differently, the shared feelings of anxiety, fear, frustration and anger by parents, educators, and concerned citizens during this academic school year are a common thread that unites us as a community, regardless of socioeconomic status.

We all want students to have an enriching academic experience but are at odds as to how we accomplish this, a challenge we were facing prior to a global pandemic.

Many studies have indicated significant investments in education are still required in New Mexico and could result in a positive, lasting impact on our state’s economic development. These investments should focus on providing a meaningful, 21st-century learning model.

We also know income inequality in New Mexico ranks high while our educational outcome measures stay low. The correlation could not be clearer.

Furthering our challenges are the effects of COVID-19 on educational outcomes, which have been devastating. In a study presented to legislators recently, early data of the impact of COVID-19 show on average, 42 percent of students statewide are failing at least one class. Teachers have reported 33 percent of students in their class are not engaged and that 20 percent are hard to reach.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is trying to address these concerns by increasing the statewide education budget to $3.3 billion (an increase of 4 percent) in the 2022 fiscal year. But to change the tide and the narrative around gaps in education, we also need community support, collaboration, and alignment with educational intervention programs and social services.

One way to leverage these types of resources is through our thriving nonprofit sector. Nonprofit intervention programs also have had to adapt to the changing COVID-19 environment but have continued supporting teachers in a virtual platform that enriches their teaching and support of students.

Other nonprofits have stepped up to expand their services of food distribution, case management and income assistance for families. None of this work would be possible without the commitment and creativity of our nonprofit partners and the generosity of donors.

We all have a part to play in the success of our students. The recovery will require continued public support as well as community collaboration, investments and resilience. Among the groups in our city working to support children, youth and families is Opportunity Santa Fe, a birth-to-career initiative of the Santa Fe Community Foundation.

Opportunity Santa Fe partners with 13 collaborative working groups made up of local nonprofit organizations and volunteers focused on early childhood outcomes, K-12 success, reengaging opportunity youth, and postsecondary success and career pathways. These collaborations offer the schools vital support.

This organization is seeking contributions of money, time and talent. We have several years of recovery ahead of us, and the process will require everyone’s help: Are you up for it?

Learning Santa Fe is a bimonthly column by community members and education officials about education in the city and New Mexico. Sarah Amador-Guzmán is program director of education and Opportunity Santa Fe with the Santa Fe Community Foundation and a parent of children in Santa Fe Public Schools.

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