By HOPE MORALES
Teach Plus New Mexico
Even after six months, my daughter would hide under the chair when her speech teacher would come to escort her to class for her 30-minute session.
Mila is the youngest of our three children. She is very shy and has struggled with articulation. We started her speech classes early. It took a while, but little by little, her speech teacher and I saw improvements.
When Mila turned four and it was time for her to go to PreK, I was very nervous. Mila rarely engaged with adults because she didn’t like the attention to be on her. She loved other children and loved to play. I knew that she was filled with potential, but would she thrive? Or would she instead be overlooked?
Luckily, Mila had one of the best PreK teachers in our community, Mrs. Wilson. She helped Mila to overcome some of her fears and built her love for learning. This change did not happen overnight.
Throughout the year, I had access to Mila’s learning data that allowed me to watch her grow, understand where she was compared to her peers, and help set goals for her. Mila went from the child who hid under the chair to sitting tall on the carpet and raising her hand to answer a question.
Throughout this process, I was a partner in Mila’s education. But what about the thousands of children in New Mexico who don’t have a supportive family or a caring teacher and who are not growing up in circumstances like Mila’s?
New Mexico’s Legislative Finance Committee has presented data showing that students who participate in quality PreK and K-3(5) Plus programs are closing the achievement gap faster than children who don’t have the same opportunities. In an effort to expand PreK programs, we grew our state funding from 14.5 million in FY12 to 64 million in FY19. The state has also recently established a new early childhood education and care department.
While increased funding and access for a larger number of students are developments of which we can be proud, we must also ensure that decisions and efforts related to early childhood education are organized and inclusive of stakeholder voice.
I believe teachers are a key component to a quality educational experience. Without a quality teacher in every classroom, the additional funding means little. We must look at the overall needs of our educational system and be willing to have challenging conversations related to quality. It is not enough to have a decorated classroom filled with 20 young children and an adult in the classroom. These children need a “Mrs. Wilson” to facilitate their learning.
During the 2020 legislative session, our lawmakers must continue to support quality educational programs for our youngest learners. It is not just about increasing the number of seats for children to attend PreK and care centers, but about ensuring that we are providing children access to quality programs.
We must continue to discuss quality while increasing access. My daughter is one child who has benefited from PreK and additional programming. All our children have the potential; let’s ensure they have the opportunity.
Hope Morales is Executive Director of Teach Plus New Mexico. She was a Teacher on Special Assignment at Military Heights Elementary School in Roswell and is a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellowship alumna.