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Nonprofit tries to blunt COVID impacts on state's education systems

Michael Rivera
Wikimedia Commons

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact New Mexico’s economy and its education systems. Now inflation is adding to those stressors. Julia Bergen of Communities in Schools, which works with students at risk of dropping out in 12 Title I schools in Santa Fe told KUNM how her staff tries to support students so they make it to graduation. The organization follows a community schools model that focuses on supporting an entire family to ensure a student's success.

JULIA BERGEN: There are a lot of really difficult situations that create a lot of trauma, if they feel that they can come forward and tell the story of the situation. And we can say, 'Well, it's okay you are where you are,' but also provide options and opportunities so that you feel you can continue to move forward in your life and not be paralyzed by that situation.

I think that kids are incredibly optimistic. And we see a lot of resilience in humans, and especially over the course of these last couple of years. But I want to be clear about what I think about resilience. I think it's what helps us as humans navigate difficult situations and move forward. But it also means that if we're perpetually having to be resilient, there's a kind of exhaustion that I think can come with that need to constantly be responding to a difficult situation.

And our coordinators really strive to create that space. Whether it's the family can't pay rent, or you're struggling to make that decision about taking a job or, staying in school or not, and work with them to design a plan that they can feel good about and that they believe they can successfully enact.

KUNM: Kids are having to worry about so much they're going to school. They're supporting their families, especially during these uncertain times. But what are you and your site coordinators most worried about? 

BERGEN: Especially in this critical time, it's holiday season, pre-K through 12th graders are getting ready to go on a two week break. The majority of our kids rely on free and reduced breakfast and lunch. They are now going to not be in school. But Communities in Schools is running holiday meal campaign right now to raise money so we can give gift cards to grocery stores to families, so that they can buy groceries during that two week break. Especially for those families who are feeling the cost of living impact both in the grocery store at the gas station, everybody's expenses are higher.

KUNM: Having a high quality education that leads to students graduating with the skills they need, can open so many doors. But what happens if we as a state don't make those necessary changes to support kids and their families' needs? 

BERGEN: If we don't address the socioeconomic inequities, and don't create access and opportunity for children to stay in school, graduate onto a college and career path, what we will face are an increase in other kinds of social challenges as a society and as communities. We need our children to graduate to be prepared to enter the workforce and contribute as engaged citizens in a positive and constructive way. If young people are dropping out and don't have the skills that they need, then there are limitations to how they can participate in community and how they can thrive.

This coverage is made possible by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and KUNM listeners.

Taylor is a reporter with our Poverty and Public Health project. She is a lover of books and a proud dog mom. She's been published in Albuquerque The Magazine several times and enjoys writing about politics and travel.
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