Don’t Know Nothing

Mulling over Santa Fe's educational divide

Teachers sometimes mistakenly attribute a student's inability to turn in assignments to a lack of dedication. Ruby Lopez says this mistake cost her valuable education time.

A 2016 graduate of Santa Fe High School and now an educator at the local nonprofit organization Earth Care, Lopez demonstrates an intelligence and maturity beyond her years. But while she was in high school, she was booted out of an Advanced Placement geography class for not turning in her homework on time. Between commuting to school from her sometimes home in Española and her other commitments, she had fallen behind and couldn't keep up with the course load.

"What we need to consider when we think about students and their needs, [it's] not just looking at the resources available to them, but also what's available at home and what expectations don't make sense for students [who] have to take care of their family," Lopez said.

She recently spoke at a panel on inequity in education in Santa Fe, part of a series hosted by the economic and environmental justice advocacy group Chainbreaker Collective. The group produced a report in August 2015 that examined gentrification and affordable housing in Santa Fe, as well as the distribution of community resources in particular neighborhoods.

The report gathered historical demographic data to show that the north side of the city has grown wealthier, whiter and older over the last 50 years, while working-class Latino residents were pushed further south, especially along the Airport Road corridor and areas that the city has annexed from the county in recent years.

While that report didn't delve into the topic of education, some evidence indicates social stratification in this area too. For example, three schools near the Plaza were all given "A" scores by the state for the last school year. Meanwhile, Airport Road had the greatest concentration of schools that received "F" scores. Past reporting by SFR also found that it's more difficult for poorer and non-English speaking families to transfer to high-performing schools.

Last year several school districts, including Santa Fe, sued the state Department of Education over the way it funds programs in the state. The Chainbreaker panel was an examination of that inequity on an even smaller scale.

Patricia Trujillo, the director of equity and diversity and an associate professor at Northern New Mexico College, noted to the audience of about 40 people that Santa Fe still grapples with its legacy of double colonization, first of Spanish over Native Americans and then Anglo-Americans over Hispanic and Native people. She noted that early schools in the region, such as the Spanish American Normal School—the forebear to Northern New Mexico College—used to "torture" the language and culture out of non-Anglo students.

"Education too is always connected to things like colonization and imperialism, and part of our job is to always question and unpack and re-imagine schools," Trujillo told the audience, reflecting the sometimes heady and theoretical direction of the night's conversation.

The construction of cities also determines the education environment outside of school, said panelist Patricia Gay-Webb, a dual-language teacher at El Camino Real Academy along the Airport Road corridor.

"We are a city where people don't really mix," Gay-Webb said. "Our students on the Southside don't go to the Plaza or the museums, even when they're free. It's not part of their culture." The net effect of kids who grow up having different cultural experiences will be a city further divided along intersecting racial and class lines in the future, she added.

Audience members asked panelists questions, including one about specific proposals for the next mayor of Santa Fe.

For Linda Siegle, the chair of Santa Fe Community College board, two ideas were "integrating [the] college into the fabric of the community" by offering more educational opportunities around town, and investing in civic education for Santa Fe youth.

Gay-Webb suggested implementing participatory budgeting in city planning to better incorporate the needs of local neighborhoods; Lopez suggested community garden programs for every school. Trujillo spoke against heightened standardized testing and the "corporatization of schools."

It's not a new critique of the standardized testing approach, but the fact that educators are having the same conversation about it that they have had for decades reflects a lack of serious engagement with the criticism, said Lopez. Her own experience bears this out.

Students at Santa Fe High, in Lopez' telling, were on two different paths: The more academically rigorous national AP path, and the "regular" path, where state tests are emphasized. Almost invariably, kids in the former group come from more privileged means, creating an obvious divide within the school. Lopez said that juggling long commutes and homelessness while attending high school prevented her from taking AP courses, which also meant she missed out on the college credit that comes with passing AP tests.

Without those credits, she is now having to pay out of pocket for courses at SFCC that she could have bypassed had she taken AP classes. It's another form of compounding inequality that students experience in Santa Fe.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story seemed to imply that Santa Fe High School offered International Baccalaureate classes. It has been updated to reflect that no IB classes are offered at SFHS.

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