As a State Senator and a teacher with Las Cruces Public Schools, I recognize the future of New Mexico depends upon the quality of the opportunities for our youth. Schools are still in session but this public health crisis changes the way schools operate. This adds new stress and anxiety to families who are already facing great uncertainty. The schools and state officials are working to minimize disruptions while also ensuring the health and safety of children, families, and school personnel. As an educator, it’s clear will navigate this new normal.
Children form close connections with their teachers and schools. When those emotional bonds are disrupted, the feelings of loss and sense of purpose are difficult for children to understand and manage. I am proud to work among and serve with outstanding educators who care deeply about students. We have not abandoned our students and families. School staff are working diligently to find safe, healthy ways to continue to deliver services. While the digital divide is a major concern in our ability to deliver equitable access to instruction, your legislators, Governor, Public Education Department and school leaders are working to expand service and access to technology. Our principals and teachers are finding creative new ways to connect with families from virtual classrooms and telephone calls to handwritten notes and waving from the school bus windows. It may look different, but learning does continue.
As parents, you are not expected to turn into experienced teachers overnight. Your most important job hasn’t changed – your presence as a calm, available loving caregiver sets the foundation for learning. While families can support learning at home, you don’t need to be hyper-focused on curriculum. Education is less about specific content and more about building neural connections. Those connections are built in many different ways. Read and tell stories daily. Write letters to a friend, family member, or public official each day. Encourage children to practice writing detailed directions for routine activities like making a sandwich or traveling to a neighborhood landmark. This simple exercise helps kids transfer the knowledge in their head onto paper. Planning and cooking meals is a time to practice math, estimation, time, and explore culture. Teach your children how to sew, use tools, learn culture and cultivate land. Use the stay-at-home orders as family time to play games to build brainpower while having fun. The most important thing is to keep them curious and engaged. And, if we all emerge from this experience with more appreciation for the profession of teaching, that will be a great gift.
As a high school AP teacher, high school students are particularly special to me. The Public Education Department (PED) has made supporting high school seniors a priority in developing local Continuous Learning Plans. High school seniors who are on track to graduate will graduate. It takes great nurturing, energy, and dedication to guide a youngster through childhood and high school. Graduation is an accomplishment the entire family should take pride in celebrating, even if commencement ceremonies need to be postponed in the near term.
This is a stressful time but together we will succeed and prosper. While the circumstances of this moment are traumatic, I take hope from the way schools, families, communities and local leaders are coming together with renewed commitment and hands-on support for our public education system. I promise to carry the lessons from this time and your personal sacrifices into future policy decisions to build a strong, accessible education system that works for all New Mexican families.
State Senator Bill Soules