For the past 20 years, I have worked in public education teaching students with disabilities. My current role is serving as the teacher for the Project SEARCH Program. I am writing to let you know that I feel very passionately about maintaining the public transit system that affords my students the ability to navigate their communities and support their opportunity to live independently.
Project SEARCH is a unique international program that teaches students with disabilities work skills, life skills and independent living skills. At present, Gadsden School District is the only school district in all of Southern New Mexico that is offering a Project SEARCH program to students. My job is not only to teach my students valuable skills to work in different fields, but to also advocate for them and the communities that support them.
My students are extremely capable and possess the ability to learn new skills, hold jobs, and ultimately become independent, tax paying members of the community.
However, they cannot do so without the availability of public transportation. Project SEARCH students cannot drive due to the limitations of their disabilities. The distance of their communities to Las Cruces makes it nearly impossible to get to the jobs that are available. Students live in rural areas like Chaparral, Santa Teresa, Sunland Park and Anthony. The availability of public transit in their areas makes it possible for them to attend our program in Las Cruces and partake in training that will prepare their path toward independence.
Public transit is an essential part of the students becoming independent, because it gives them the freedom to travel to the host business where they will work — Good Samaritan Village in Las Cruces — without relying on a parent or caretaker to get them there and back.
My students have become avid public transit riders and use all lines with South Central Transit. They utilize the blue, red and turquoise lines from their hometowns to Las Cruces to get to and from their internship at Good Samaritan. South Central Transit also provides instruction for our students on how to transfer to the bus systems in El Paso and Las Cruces so they can learn to use public transit for needs other than work. This assistance has enhanced their level of freedom.
For some people, the use of public transit is a choice. For my students, it is an imperative necessity as it is for many in the rural areas surrounding Las Cruces. In our area, poverty is also an issue, and many people don’t own cars. Whether due to disability or financial need, public transit gives people the possibility of going to Las Cruces, El Paso and neighbor towns independently. For my students and their families, public transit has made it possible for them to have a better future.
I am grateful for public transit and am thankful for the steps South Central Transit has taken to help my students live their lives to the fullest. However, I know that funding from the state is essential to ensuring the future of public transit. With dedicated state funding, public transit will continue to better the lives of my students, and could potentially expand services to run later and on the weekend. The growth of public transit will most definitely continue to increase the quality of life for my students and for all in the Las Cruces area.
As we look forward to the 2019 Legislative Session, I ask our representatives and senators to consider the incredible students I work with and to actively work to increase funding to support their freedom, independence and right to work. In addition to improving the lives of my students, state funding for public transit would allow all who live in the rural communities with limited resources, the opportunity for affordable and safe transit to get to and from work, visit with friends and family, and to run errands.
Ivonne Perez is an instructor for Project SEARCH in Southern New Mexico. Project SEARCH is an innovative school-to-work internship program that gives young adults with disabilities the opportunity to learn marketable job skills.