Nearly a fifth of Santa Fe’s population is under 18 years old, according to the US Census Bureau, meaning there are around 15,000 kids out of school for the summer every year looking for activities to occupy their days. While both the city and the school district offer programming for some kids at various points in the summer, there are thousands who wouldn’t be able to join a program even if they wanted to because of limited resources.
Inside the Genoveva Chavez Community Center on a drizzly June afternoon, Marciela Brooks Gomez sits with her 11-year-old daughter, Anahi Damian, lunching on goopy nachos dressed with jalapeño slices. She jokes that her daughter will then exercise at the center's facilities for an hour and a half after they finish eating, which is part of the reason they're here: The family nutritionist gave them a pass to use the facilities for free throughout June as part of the Comunidad, Ejercicio, Nutrición y Acción (CENA) Program, an initiative out of La Familia Medical Center to prevent and alleviate obesity, particularly within youth populations.
"When she was in the house, she wanted to eat and eat," Gomez says. She also laments all the time Anahi would pass in front of the TV, and is especially wary of it now, with a president who has said things on air that are "hurtful" for kids. After this month, she says that their family will go on a trip to Acapulco, Mexico, where they have a small house, before returning to Santa Fe so Anahi can begin sixth grade at Ortiz Middle School.
Across the small snack area, Alice Jaramillo sits with her grandson Tyler Edimo, a rising fourth grader at EJ Martinez Elementary School, as he bounces a small ball around the table. Last summer, Jaramillo says, Tyler participated in a tennis program, but his plans are a little less clear now: His working mother would like to provide more reading instruction at home, and maybe he'll help around the house. But Jaramillo is adamant that Santa Fe does not provide enough programming for children in the summer months.
"I wish the city or somebody would think more of the kids in Santa Fe," she says. "They need to do more things. … Maybe grandmas and other people, we can all get together and raise money and offer a free book camp for the kids. We've been thinking about doing free hot dogs and things like that to give them. I wish that mentors and people would rise up."
She pleaded with this reporter to be in touch about possible programs where she could enroll Tyler.
Chris Sanchez, the director of community services for the City of Santa Fe, urged parents who feel similarly to contact his office.
"I don't know if we've ever turned one student away," Sanchez tells SFR.
He's referring to the city's Summer Youth Program, which offers close to 1,000 spots every year for kids ages 6 to 18 at seven different locations throughout the city. The eight-week program, which began on June 5, includes trips to various centers like the Española Valley Fiber Art Center and the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. It's the first year that the program is formalized with this content; the summer youth program in past years mostly consisted of recreational activities. Funders are local, and include the county, Christus St. Vincent Hospital, the Brindle Foundation, the McCune Charitable Foundation and others. They're all partners of the Santa Fe Community Educators Network, which itself is a project of the mayor's Birth to Career Collaboration that defines summer school programming that hits on standard school subject curricula as a city-wide priority.
Although the cost of participating ranges between $40 and $240 based on reported income, the city reports that 49 percent of participants last year were from households making under $25,700 annually. Edith Martinez, the office manager for the Community Services Department, says the city will be measuring potential impact that the programs have on children during the school year.
"We're doing a pre- and post-survey, and then we're following it up with the schools to see test scores at the end of the year," she says. "Track the kids that way to see if what we did in the summer made a difference."
Sanchez says the city Summer Youth Program managers worked with the public schools to design its curriculum, and that Santa Fe Public Schools also has a dozen different enrichment programs for students in the summers, though they don't accommodate more than a few hundred students and most are offered for only a limited portion of the summer. Many are free, but some cost money: For example, the music and arts summer program, which enrolls 88 kids, costs between $250 and $300, with only 12 students getting partial scholarships this year.
Budget cuts at the state level also hammered one summer program shown to benefit low-income students. The K-3 Plus program in Santa Fe, which lengthens the school year by 25 days before the start of a new school year, saw 250 students cut from its roster. Some spots were restored using money from the Santa Fe Community Foundation and redirected federal funds (whose future also seems imperiled), according to SFPS Superintendent Veronica Garcia.
"Extended learning time during the summer is very important to ensure that children don't fall behind academically in the summer months," Garcia tells SFR. "I wish that we had the funding to ensure that every family who wants their child to participate in extended learning would have the opportunity to do so."
At the Albertsons on Zafarano Drive, Paolina Enriquez pushed around a cart with her 3-year-old son and two middle school-aged nieces in tow. Both girls say they've spent most of the summer watching TV and playing around, although one says she hoped to join a "girl's group."
Enriquez' son wasn't old enough to be in school yet, but when he is, she'd like to enroll him sports-focused programs in the summers. But she worries about finding out about such programs in time, echoing worries of other parents who spoke to SFR.
"They should publish [information about the programs] on Facebook," Enriquez says. "That'd be easy."
For more information about the city's Summer Youth Program, visit santafenm.gov/summer_youth_program or call Edith Martinez, office manager for the Community Services Department, at 955-6568.