Below, a conversation between youth organizer Isabella Baker and recent high school graduate Galicia Monforte.

Isabella Baker: When I heard about the Yazzie/Martinez court ruling that found the state was violating students’ constitutional right to a sufficient education, I thought, wow, we have a real opportunity to rebuild our school system. But it’s been three years since the decision. We still need sustainable and transformative change that actually impacts students.

Galicia Monforte: I just heard out about the ruling this year. Any changes the state did make didn’t trickle down to the kids. Our students are the next leaders. If students were given the educational opportunities, we could see the next Albert Einstein come out of Los Lunas and NASA scientists and Pixar animators from more low-income communities.

Education is our future. New Mexico is losing out on potential. Students want to see improvements in our schools right away. We can’t wait any longer.

Isabella: To comply with the ruling, the state needs to listen to the many advocates who have been telling them for years that education needs to be student-centered; mental and behavioral health must be a priority; schools need resources for quality materials; and we need resources to develop teachers who are passionate about education and pay them well. The state needs to have a plan and put money and resources behind it. We’re 49th or 50th in the nation in education. Band-Aid solutions haven’t made a difference.

Galicia: Imagine what would happen if New Mexico actually decided its goal was to have one of the best education systems and also put in the programs to take care of kids’ mental health and make sure they had meals and access to internet and technology at home. What would happen in the next 10 years? We would see more kids doing well in school, graduating, getting good jobs and going to college.

Isabella: To do that, the state also has to listen to students. School is supposed to be about students. When so many say they hate going to school, there’s something wrong. School is not just about following the rules and taking tests. But that’s how it’s managed, partly because of the lack of teachers and resources.

I came from teenage parents and a low-income family. In elementary and part of middle school, we lacked teachers, had huge class sizes and outdated books and materials. I was enthusiastic about learning but didn’t have the opportunity to be in classes that challenged me or were relevant to me as a student of color. But I was never listened to.

Galicia: The public school system has so many students and limited funds. They can’t provide every student what they need. It’s not right that I had to enter a lottery to get smaller classes at a charter school. The support I got in a smaller school made a huge difference. Sadly, my school was mostly a white student body. A lot of low-income students and students of color don’t have access to the same opportunities as other students. Their parents just don’t have time or resources to search for alternatives.

Isabella: Parents shouldn’t have to search for alternatives to what the state is supposed to be providing. The public schools and our society are built on systemic racism. The state and our society need to make systemic changes. Implementing what’s in Yazzie/Martinez is a good start if we want to help our students and our state.

This has been a conversation between Isabella Baker, a youth organizer at Strong Families New Mexico, and Galicia Monforte, a new high school graduate from the Ask Academy in Rio Rancho. Monforte is entering Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University this fall.

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