Would it be easier to control infections if schools were smaller?

 

By Zully Rodriguez | Community Organizer, Partnership for Community Action

School MasksNormally, the return to school is accompanied by funny memes where parents are happy to leave children at the school door and run towards freedom, while the teacher is left crying with the task of dealing with a lot of kids bursting with energy for the next six hours. But this return to school has been so shocking and out of the ordinary, that the memes show both teachers and parents in a whirlpool of mixed emotions and half-baked solutions.

This atypical beginning of the school year has brought challenges that are sometimes seen as impossible to solve. The return to school is beginning to look like a Halloween movie where we cannot imagine the last scene without feeling chills. We all want a different ending, but even so, terror is on the scene.

As an immigrant, I was amazed the first time I saw an elementary school with just over a thousand students. Painted Sky Elementary School was bigger than the university I attended. “How wonderful!” was my first thought.

Later, when it was time for my children to attend that school, I began to discover the challenges and disadvantages that these gigantic class sizes had.

By doing a little research, I discovered why the schools are so big. It is about saving administrative resources and offering many more possibilities to students, such as: sports, art, music, etc. And yes, it works well for some, but it is also true that other students, especially low-income and those of color, are adrift in that sea of ​​opportunities. In addition, the enormous number of students in each school has made it very difficult to control a virus situation like the one we are facing right now.

While having smaller schools raises administration costs and could deprive students of some opportunities, it is also true that it creates an environment that benefits students, their families, teachers, and communities. So I hope that some will agree with me when I say that when it comes to education we should not think about saving a penny.

In the shadow of COVID-19, I found another downside to large schools. For the districts, controlling this virus has been a daunting task. The amount of contagion possibilities is exponential in these huge schools. So the obvious question is: Would it be easier to control infections if schools were smaller? That answer should be given by an epidemiologist, but as they say in my town: “A ojo de buen cubero” it seems that the answer is yes.

As an example, look at the case of childcare providers. Since social distancing began, these establishments have continued to work, as they are considered essential. Although they have worked very modestly, they have taught us that numbers do matter, and not only when it comes to having better control of the virus, but also when it comes to giving parents a little peace of mind. Daycare centers, unlike schools, handle much smaller groups of children which helps control the spread of the virus. The gigantic schools, for their part, put school districts in jeopardy in their efforts to minimize the spread of COVID 19.

What would back-to-school look like if schools were smaller? Perhaps the probability of contagion would be lower, the spread easier to control, and the return to school would be less complicated than it currently is.

PCA Partners with UNM Cariño to Open South Valley Lending Library

PCA Opens South Valley Colibrí Children’s Play Garden and the Cariño Lending Library!

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ALBUQUERQUE, NM – The Partnership for Community Action (PCA) is celebrating the grand opening of the Colibrí: Interactive Children’s Play Garden & the UNM Cariño Early Childhood Toy & Lending Library with an Open House this coming Monday August 10th from 12PM-6:00PM. This marks the PCA’s second major investment in the South Valley following its renovation of the property at 722 Isleta SW.

“We’re proud of our continued commitment to our local community,” said PCA Board President Bernadette Miera. “For the past 25 years we’ve worked closely with families in the South Valley. We’re very excited to take this next step as we work toward a more healthy and inclusive community.”

The Cariño Lending Library and the Colibrí Children’s Play Garden are the latest examples of community-led reinvestments in our city. Not long ago the property at 722 Isleta was an abandoned eye sore and in the span of two years PCA has raised funding and leveraged the necessary resources to turn an eye sore into a healthy, vibrant community space.  The Colibrí Children’s Play Garden was made possible by a PNM Power Up grant and collaboration with the UNM Community and Regional Planning capstone class.

“As a parent, it’s always difficult to find the appropriate balance between academic resources and access to interactive, healthy spaces for my children to play. That’s why we helped design and build this space for all of our children to enjoy,” said Ivón Rodríguez, parent leader at Edward Gonzales Elementary School and mother of three children. “We’re proud to call this space our own – and we hope other families will utilize it as well.”

Members of the media and the community are welcome to attend at any time between 12PM-6PM on Monday August 10th to view this new community resource, ask questions and enjoy light refreshments.
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SEE KRQE News Story

PCA’s Javier Martinez Interviewed by KOB TV about Immigrant Children

Javier-Martinez

PCA’s Javier Martinez was interviewed by KOB TV about the recent wave of child immigrants crossing the border, the challenges these children face, and the response by US officials. You can watch the interview and read the article on KOB’s website at:

http://www.kob.com/article/stories/s3483460.shtml#.U6kSE3i9LCR

Adrian Pedroza’s Editorial in the Journal

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Adrian Pedroza, PCA’s Executive Director, recently published an Editorial that was featured in the Albuquerque Journal. The editorial offers insight into education in New Mexico. The full editorial is below:

It’s time to replace high-stakes testing with real learning

Earlier this year the Public Education Department (PED) published graduation rates in Albuquerque and across the state.  Albuquerque has improved slightly to 68.7 percent and the state has held steady at roughly 70 percent.  It was also recently reported in The Journal that passing scores for the Alternative Demonstrations of Competency (ADC) (the tests that’s administered to students who fail the traditional graduation exam) in Math and Science require students to answer far fewer than half the questions correctly in order to graduate.

In fact, a student only has to correctly answer 25 percent of questions in the Chemistry section of the test. The story isn’t much better in US History (52 percent) or English (50 percent).  The PED arbitrarily set those revised benchmarks to the ADC only after they graded the tests and realized that there were serious problems with their system.  Our students simply haven’t learned the most basic of school subjects in the unimaginative, assembly-line, industrial era education system that we adults have created.

While I was relieved to see that the PED officials did not blame the students for their flawed system, I was also dismayed that they didn’t take responsibility for overseeing a school system that cannot compel our students to learn. Instead, they doubled down on the legitimacy of the tests claiming that they were challenging our students and insinuated that the dismal test scores should be expected.  From the looks of it,  they were quick to change their own standard for quality to avoid the public blow back that would have resulted from the  fiasco of failing thousands of our children.

I believe in standards and accountability, but most of all I believe that our most important objective should be to design school systems that allow young people to learn.  Unfortunately for our students, standardized testing may be efficient but it is also bankrupt as a primary organizing principal for our schools. We have been beating the high stakes accountability drum since before the federal No Child Left Behind legislation was passed and our students are falling further and further behind by all national and international standards.  The move to Common Core national standards has promise, but only if learning is not driven by antiquated assessments that promote a system that forces teachers to narrow what they teach and what students learn.

I have been a witness to the death of the industrial-era model in nearly every area of our lives. Yet, our strategies for improving schools are still following that antiquated production system.  Our governor’s theory is built on compelling schools, teachers, and students to succeed, then she punishes them when they fail. Yet, even when her own system can’t produce the results that she desires, she changes the facts to fit reality. In other words, our governor couldn’t stomach the political fallout of all those high school seniors who under her newly created system wouldn’t have earned a diploma, so she simply changed the system to fit her reality. I wonder what the graduation rate would be if students actually had to pass the Alternative Demonstration of Competency exam?

We have given the reins to technocrats that have not seen the inside of a school since they themselves graduated from high school.  The accountability theory behind their strategy of high stakes testing is devoid of the actual practice of teaching and learning.  As a result, they have designed a system of schools that is backwards. They have under invested in human capital by inadequately preparing teachers for the new world and de-professionalized them at every turn. We now have children that learn less than ever because we have tied our teacher’s hands and forced them to teach a narrow and uninspired curriculum. Do we have the courage to change the education paradigm from high stakes testing to high stakes learning- where students are once again inspired to learn?

Adrian Pedroza is the Executive Director of the Partnership for Community Action an education and advocacy organization, supporting people and families become effective leaders in our neighborhoods and building strong, healthy communities across our state.

Radio Lobo Interview – Zully Rodriguez And Judith Villegas

Zully Rodriguez and Judith Villegas were recently interview on Radio Lobo. You can listen to the interview here.