Notes from the Listening Tour: Albuquerque New Mexico•
To learn how Americans view opportunity and economic mobility, we began this campaign with a listening tour; we heard from experienced social policy researchers and non-profit Executive Directors, creative young organizers and social entrepreneurs, and several community groups around the country.
One of the most eye-opening visits I took this year was to Albuquerque, New Mexico where I was lucky to be hosted by Kara Bobroff, the Principal of the Native American Community Academy. NACA believes that to truly prepare a child for academic and life success, the school experience must reach and honor the child on many levels – and the approach must be integrated.
NACA and the Center for Working Families at Central New Mexico Community College organized three community discussions with students, parents, social workers and other community leaders to talk about “Opportunity” in New Mexico and some of the barriers facing local youth.
As in most communities, education is seen as a ladder to opportunity, but people identified missing rungs. The NACA students I met were highly motivated and well-prepared for higher education, but were concerned about affordability and future debt. Community college educators reported that many students make it to community college but cannot read well enough to succeed. A local educator talked about the limitations to transferring urban education reform proposals to rural districts; drastic personnel changes or school closures are impossible in a community with few teachers or alternative schools.
Moreover, though community members from New Mexico discussed similar barriers to opportunity that people face in other locations, such as Boston or Newark, we heard some different things as well. For example, transportation is a huge challenge because New Mexico is a rural state. One participant shared, “if you live in one of the ten reservations in this part of the state, you would need to will drive at least forty miles per day to get to a city with jobs. Lots of people lose jobs, or get behind in their studies because one car breaks down and they can’t afford to repair it.”
There were plenty of great ideas shared, and community leaders who were working to make a difference every day. Community leaders expressed support for a “Grow your own” approach taken by the state to develop more teachers and health care providers in the workforce. Several high school students will be selected and supported through their education, with a commitment to working in their communities.
We are thrilled that NACA has joined the coalition and will host more dialogues on opportunity in 2011.