By Bill Knief
Sometimes it’s hard to remain positive about educational opportunities in Taos County when we are reminded almost daily of the private agendas, power plays and avoidance of responsibility which have become downright toxic to the spirit of education. That makes it all the more important to celebrate successes whenever and wherever they appear. For instance:
Last week I had a conversation with two-time former school superintendent and state Representative Bobby Gonzales in the Centinel Bank parking lot and he told me about going to the UNM homecoming game in Albuquerque. Once again the Lobos lost, but it didn’t seem to dampen Gonzales’ spirits. He described how he was allowed down on the field at half time to witness the crowning of the 2010 Homecoming King and Queen, who just happened to be his son, Miguel Gonzales, and Zoe Riebli, daughter of Ann Riebli of Taos. Both university students are graduates of the Taos High School Class of 2007. And not only that, Gonzales reminded me, this year’s Student Body President at UNM is Laz Cardenas, who also hails from the 2007 class at Taos High, and whose father, Laz Cardenas senior, taught woodworking for many years at THS.
“That says a lot about our kids,” Gonzales said, “that we are a small community but our students still have the opportunity to be a part of big events like this. It is so important to work toward a strong, solid education in today’s world. It doesn’t matter if there has been some interference in people’s lives—it’s never too late to come back.”
Also last week a graduate from the very first UNM-BSN satellite nursing program at UNM-Taos was awarded a special recognition. Bethany Shadid was named Rising Star at Presbyterian Hospital in Albuquerque where she works. The PRIDE nursing excellence awards are given out to “…recognize individuals who exemplify quality nursing” who have been working at Presbyterian for less than two years. Shadid was nominated for her work in rewriting the orientation manual for newly graduated nurses and new hires at Presbyterian.
Taos artist and UNM-Taos adjunct instructor Giovanna Paponetti recently completed her first book featuring 21 paintings she did of the 17th century Mohawk woman Kateri Tekakwitha, who is the first Native American to be considered for canonization by the Catholic church. Paponetti was featured on PBS’ nationally syndicated program, “The History Detectives” in September.
The Spirit of Education
Some years back, if you asked a high school student about their plans for college, chances are they might not have even been aware that we have a community college right here in Taos. But now the climate for education has begun to shift, thanks in part to the UNM-Taos College Prep program run by Roberta Vigil.
“Every Friday we have over 130 high school students from Penasco, Mesa Vista, Questa and Taos High experiencing college courses on a college campus,” explained Jim Gilroy, Dean of the Department of Instruction. “And next year we will be expanding. We’ve gone from 12 faculty to over 20 volunteering to teach courses for next semester.
“The response from these young people, ranging from freshmen to juniors and seniors, has been wonderful. What has impressed me is the level of seriousness and it has been noted by faculty as well. When they’re on campus there’s no fooling around. They come in and get right to work. They have a 15 minute to half hour break for lunch and they’re right back in class. They take a three hour class in the morning and a three hour class in the afternoon.
“We meet with principals and superintendants monthly to tweak the program, and we are already looking to expand the program next semester based on requests coming in. We look forward to a continued partnership with area schools.”
When individuals and families understand that college is simply the next logical, accessible step in the educational ladder, this realization will surely have a profound impact on the communities of northern New Mexico.