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Advocate's Voice

Stronger Together

As the dust begins to settle on what many educators characterize as the most difficult school year in recent memory, this moment of reprieve offers an opportunity for reflection.
Advocate's Voice
Published: 05/20/2022

Key Takeaways

  1. Many educators, students and families have been stretched to their endurance point and can’t take much more.
  2. Address the significant mental health crisis that is ravaging New Mexico schools.
  3. The health and well-being of all educators is NEA-NM's top priority.

While circumstances are not the same across the state ­– some communities have felt the impact of the pandemic more acutely than others; some schools have an extended year into June and some schools are starting up again in July – one thing is true everywhere: many educators, students and families have been stretched to their endurance point and can’t take much more. In the wake of overlapping crises and the resulting financial and personal toll many have borne, mental and behavioral health issues for children and adults have exploded. These issues, which so often create new barriers to learning in the classroom, must be addressed with state- and district-level funding and policy changes, so that we can turn the page on this devastating period.

Educators have spoken out: school-based mental healthcare services, grief counseling, and student and educator support staff need to be a funding priority, so that learning can happen. 

While recent legislative wins have brought some financial relief to educators – the new higher tier minimums, 7% across-the-board raise, and $15.00/hour minimum wage ­­– significant challenges still exist. Pressure from the Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) and some powerful legislators to extend the school year and implement the one-size-fits-all K-5 Plus program was intense after the 2022 Legislative Session. Once again, millions of dollars were allocated for these programs, and yet unilateral efforts to extend the calendar year have been met with low uptake as staff, parents, and communities continue to reel from the past two years of pandemic-era schooling. The 100 million dollars plus, that will revert to the reform fund, must instead be used to address the significant mental health crisis that is ravaging New Mexico schools.

The 2022-2023 school year needs to be the year when the powerful people in Santa Fe listen to what our state’s first-hand education experts – classroom teachers, support staff, and parents – are telling them:

“We know and understand that students have lost learning, this undoubtedly needs to be addressed.

But we also know that students and educators are struggling through an ongoing pandemic that has killed over 1 million people in the U.S, and this experience cannot simply be swept under the rug.” While schools are open and learning is happening, we must deal with the mental and behavioral health issues that are driving poor attendance and preventing students from achieving their highest potential. A strong, well-funded network of social and emotional supports for our educators, children, and families, to help them process their grief and reintegrate into school life is what students, families and educators need right now. (NM has led the nation for high suicide rates among young people for decades. This is NOT a new phenomenon but is heartbreaking and tragic and avoidable)

Adding to the pandemic that is affecting the whole world, and closer to home, are the wildfires burning out of control all over the state. I wake up each morning with my eyes burning and my throat dry from the smoke and ash that surround us. I know that many of you have been evacuated, displaced and unable to return to your homes and communities as the devastation continues. Please reach out to us below, with needs that you, your communities, and your schools may have during these horrific wildfires and include your stories and pictures with us so that we can then, in turn, share them with lawmakers and funders to try to get help directed where it is needed most.

Despite these continuing challenges,

educators have shown incredible perseverance during this time,

and NEA-NM also wants to share your stories of strength, creativity, and joy from the last two years. Tell us your stories of triumph with as well, so we can get the word out about all the incredible teaching and learning that is going on in our state, despite everything that is being thrown at us!  I’d particularly like to thank educators who are retiring this year after many years of commitment and service to the students of New Mexico ­– please enjoy your well-deserved rest! CONGRATULATIONS!

The health and well-being of all educators is NEA-NM’s top priority.  We are a family of educators that must care for one another, especially during the most difficult times. Please don’t lose faith or hope. We will turn the page on this extremely difficult time and come out of it stronger than ever ­– stronger together!


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