Education–it makes you think

By Bill Knief

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If you’re not careful, it’s easy to get carried away by cynicism in these tough times.

It’s hard to see how quality education stands much of a chance in an era where catchphrases take the place of factual analysis—and not just in advertising, but in journalism and public discourse as well. Where “hope” means wishful thinking rather than conviction in the projected goals and likely outcomes of careful planning. Where short term gratification trumps long term gain. Where big corporations and a politicized government routinely insult our intelligence with godlike claims of competence while pleading exemption from responsibility for social justice and the consequences of their own actions. Where people prefer simple lies to complex truths, and we chuckle at every excess while staunchly defending our right to be clueless.

Then, there’s Taos: where people turn out by the thousands every fall to celebrate art and the creative spirit, and thereby renew their sense of curiosity and wonder about the world. Where over 100 people drove to UNM-Taos after work to see the new buildings, new exterior lighting, landscaping and the freshly paved walkways, parking lots and drives just waiting for a record number of enrollees to put them to use. Where people listened to the words of college and high school poets that rose in the night sky like sparks from a bonfire. Where the curious lined up for a glimpse of the planet Jupiter and its moons through a massive telescope, and watched the epic documentary of a determined band of persons with disabilities ascending the highest point on the planet.

The first UNM-Taos Fall Harvest Festival of Education and the Arts was the successful combination of a lot of people’s hard work mixed with a genuine sense of celebration. There isn’t time and space enough to enumerate all the events and mini-activities that took place in that solid week of festivities, but here are a couple of high points that suggest that in Taos, the best is yet to come:

Monday, September 29 was Career Tech day, when academies showed their wares and students came from the Taos schools and Rocky Mountain Youth Corp to check out the new Career Tech building and see what it felt like to be on a college campus—some for the first time. A dozen students drove themselves all the way from Penasco just to find out what was up at their branch campus, and see if college might soon be right for them.

On October 1 the nearly completed Kid’s Campus Center for Early Learning opened its doors to around 20 students and their parents involved in the UNM-Taos early childhood development program temporarily operating out of the Presbyterian Church. They were followed closely by an old colleague in early childhood development, Taos Pueblo Head Start, which was appropriate, as Patricia Gonzales, student enrollment director, explained, because “When we first broke ground on the center, Taos Pueblo Head Start children were out there with the golden shovels, so we thought it would be appropriate for them to be a part of our opening.”

The big yellow school bus pulled up in front of the new Kid’s Campus building and out poured thirty or forty (they were hard to count) delightful children eager to explore a place of learning.

UNM-Taos is starting to look a whole lot like the communities it serves—not a mirror image, certainly, but more like a reflection in a moving stream; the essence and shape of northern New Mexico.

The Fall Harvest week was also punctuated by two significant financial successes. The college learned that it was the recipient of a $600,000.00 HUD grant—the only HUD grant of its kind awarded in the state this year.

“With it,” Gonzales said, “we will be able to add three more classrooms to the Kid’s Campus.” This is important, she went on to explain, because although the new building, also funded by a HUD grant, is designed to serve around 36 students, the program at the Presbyterian church has 26 students and there are already 30 new applicants o a waiting list.

UNM-Taos has also received another Title V grant, which are federal monies designed, according to Juan Montes, head of the Title V program at UNM-Taos, “to enhance and expand the educational opportunities for Hispanics.”

Montes said that in the past Title V grant money, used for institutional development rather than for individual students, has provided for such things as all the computers in the Library Resource Center, as well as funds for an assistant librarian, an advisor position and the CASA tutoring program. The new grant for $875,000.00 over two years will be used to create a Water and Natural Resources Center, provide GPS services, and encourage careers at the high school level in science, engineering, technology and mathematics; the basic STEM disciplines.

One further reminder: On November 4 voters in New Mexico will be asked to decide the fate of the 139 million dollar General Obligation Bond approved by the state legislature. If it passes, UNM-Taos will be able to complete the long awaited multi purpose classroom building and consolidate classes and administration onto the Klauer campus.

Education—it certainly does make you think!

About The Bill Knief