Spanish speakers who need help with basic literacy and education, including computer skills, will now have a new place to learn. A Plaza Comunitaria will be established thanks to an agreement reached between the local nonprofit EarthCare and the Consulate of Mexico in Albuquerque.

The consulate has promised to provide a curriculum and textbooks for the first such program in Santa Fe. The program is for Spanish-speaking adults to work on their elementary and secondary education, all for free.

Plaza Comunitaria in Santa Fe will be New Mexico's second. The first one started in the Cibola County Correctional Center and the third is set to begin soon in Albuquerque, according to the Santa Fe program's coordinator, Cipriana Jurado Herrera.

Four different certified courses are set to start this month at the Zona del Sol building on the Southside, including primary education and computer classes, basic literacy in Spanish and beginner English lessons.

Enrollment is underway, though an exact start date has not been decided yet.

The consulate supports programs that benefit Mexican nationals living in the United States and to introduce the Mexican culture to others, though any Spanish-speaker is welcome.

"One of the things that excited us is that here people are from other countries," Jurado says. "Spanish-speaking people can come and get certified and this is because the government of Mexico has educational agreements with several countries. It doesn't matter, people from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala can come. There are also people from Colombia, Venezuela."

EarthCare has been working on the agreement with the consulate for the last several months, after establishing a working relationship with it over the years, holding events like health fairs and help with getting proper documentation for Mexican nationals.

But the employees and volunteers at EarthCare noted another issue in the city they hope to remedy with these basic classes.

"We have been told that many parents cannot help their children with their homework and this is because they don't understand the classes their children are taking," Jurado tells SFR in Spanish.

He hopes that education will empower parents to be more involved in the community, in their children's lives and in the management of the district's schools.

A lack of basic literacy in New Mexico is not a new issue. The state has a 46% functionally illiterate population, with an estimated nearly 1 million adults needing literary services, according to the New Mexico Coalition for Literacy. Among New Mexicans older than 16, 20% are at the lowest level of literacy, which means they struggle to find basic information in a news article or add purchases on a receipt.

Such a large portion of the population not having basic math, reading and writing skills, whether in English or Spanish, could be having a negative impact on Spanish-speakers' ability to improve financially. In New Mexico, around 64% of jobs require a literacy understanding above the second level of literacy. Only 12% of jobs require people with skills at the lowest level.

To combat the problem, Acosta wants to move beyond the Plaza Comunitaria to open Colegio Sin Fronteras, which would offer higher-level classes for adults in order to act as a funnel to institutions like the Santa Fe Community College, or even allow people to start or finish degrees right at Zona del Sol.

"If you are learning math, you will also learn about family and healthy community," Miguel Acosta, co-director of EarthCare, tells SFR in Spanish. "Community education is not just about learning things but about learning things to transform yourself, and your family, and the community. That is the point of the Plaza Comunitaria and the curriculum."

Acosta says the nonprofit will launch a funding campaign this month so the proposed Colegio Sin Fronteras can hire staff and buy materials like laptops for the adults to use.

For now, the students who will begin taking classes this month twice a week are the base of what could be a wider project.

"Several years ago they did a survey where they compared students who finished high school courses through the Plaza Comunitaria and those who participated in GED classes," Acosta tells SFR in Spanish. "When taking the GED test, of those two groups, those in the Plaza Comunitaria had a better passing rate than those who took the GED course."

If you are interested or know someone who might be in the Plaza Comunitaria, call 505-204-1628 or email info@earthcarenm.org.