By Bill Knief
These are trying times in the halls of academe. After many campaign promises last year that cuts in education funding were necessary and “wouldn’t affect the classroom” hundreds of teachers across the state have been laid off. Class sizes and higher education tuitions have ballooned like the skies above Taos last weekend. And essential developmental and dual credit courses have been defunded while millions of New Mexico tax dollars were diverted so that out-of-state students can pay the same tuition for online classes that New Mexican taxpayers are charged. It’s enough to make career educators weep.
But last week I had a conversation with a scholar who convinced me that it takes more than that to stop a student on a mission. She’s Desi-Rae Roybal and she’s seventeen years old. She started ninth grade at Taos Academy, switched to Taos High, then switched again to Rio Grande in Albuquerque. By the time she started 10th grade in Penasco she realized that high school was not for her.
But wait, there’s more: she just got her GED from The Literacy Center in eleven weeks, and is now thinking about enrolling at UNM-Taos in January.
“The system didn’t really fit my learning style,” she explained. “Now I’m thinking about going to college, which is strange because I’ve never really wondered about college or felt like it might be right for me. But since I’ve been in this program I’ve got a new level of self confidence when it comes to my learning, like maybe I can do college.”
I wondered what motivated her to get her GED.
“Actually it was my mother. I came home the second day of school and was like, I’m not doing this. I can’t. She got online and The Literacy Center popped up and we discussed it. She was very supportive. But when I made the decision to get my GED I was scared. I was afraid I wasn’t living up to the expectations people had set for me.
“I think a really big part of joining the program is learning to accept yourself for who you are, and not necessarily putting everyone else’s feelings aside but learning to take yourself into account first. It’s a really big decision, but it might just make your life a little better.”
I asked her to describe a typical day.
“I live in Penasco, but I don’t think it’s very fair to have my mom take me to classes, because I could have gone to high school instead. So I get up at 4 a.m. and get ready to catch the bus at six. It gets to my stop at Super Save around seven, and I walk to the Literacy Center [on Civic Plaza Drive], but I have to wait 15 or 20 minutes for the building to open, and then I wait for my first class. At the end of the day I make my way to Walmart by 5:10 to catch the bus back to Penasco. It’s an interesting life.
“I won’t miss the monsoons, when it was cold and raining, but for me it was completely worth it. So now I’ve been looking for a job, just trying to get on my feet, and make my own path in the world.”
With that kind of focus and persistence, it will be interesting to see where the path leads her.
Community Art and a Moment of Lightness
After creating more than 50 murals, mostly in public places in and around Taos, George Chacon has an intimate understanding of community art and what it does for people.
“I’m about as local as you can get,” he says.
When UNM-Taos assistant librarian Ana Pacheco approached him with a big idea and a small amount of money to help beautify the sitting area in front of the library, he jumped at the chance.
“We were racing with the weather, so I had to get on it and make it worth my time,” Chacon said. I figured it would take about a week to do the job.
“When students come by they say they really enjoy seeing something that’s pleasing to the eye and something that breaks up the everyday struggles of the economy that people are in today. That’s what it is all about. They have access to the art work without having to invest or go into a gallery or museum. It’s just there for them. That’s community art; it lifts the spirit. There is a sense of ownership people have in these public places, and the people who enjoy it become a part of the mural in a way. It’s theirs to enjoy.
“It doesn’t solve anything, it just gives them a moment of lightness.”
On Wednesday, November 9 from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. the library, located behind the UNM-Taos administration building on Civic Plaza Drive, is holding a dedication of the mural and reception in honor of all the people who helped create an inviting community space with planter boxes, a water catchment system, shade sails, native trees and shrubs.