Jennifer Gómez | Table 2 - Educational Session, CUMIPAZ 2017

Jennifer Gómez | Table 2 - Educational Session, CUMIPAZ 2017

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Buenos días, es un honor estar aquí en Panamá con CUMIPAZ y con todos ustedes. Hoy voy a dar mi presentación en inglés, para representar los Estados Unidos.

It’s an honor to be with you today, with CUMIPAZ. I’m Jennifer Gomez Chavez, representing the University of New Mexico from the beautiful city of Albuquerque, New Mexico. And today, I want to share with you our Unidos Project which is a unique program that is trying to increase students success, access for students and families within our state.

In 2011, the Unidos Project received a grant from the Lumina Foundation, and for those of y'all who are not sure or who have not heard what the Lumina Foundation is; it's one of the largest, philanthropic organizations in the U.S.

And what they discovered, that although the United States is becoming more diverse that in fact it doesn’t reflect student success in students that are coming from underrepresented backgrounds; so with that Albuquerque received a Lumina Grant Award to increase student’s success across the country.

We are one of thirteen communities in the U.S. The Lumina Foundation has a goal to increase degrees and credentials to 60% by the year 2025; it's a big goal for us but we are trying our best to our part to contribute to that ultimate goal. So just to give you a little bit of background about Albuquerque and about New Mexico. The percentage of hispanos enrolled in public schools in New Mexico increased from 53% to 56%. In 2010 the statewide hispano latino four year high school graduation rate was 64%; so if you can imagine that almost half of our latino population is not graduating, is devastating for us.

And now today in 2017, 75% of students attending school within the Albuquerque school district, which is the largest school district in the state of New Mexico are latino students. So I am so proud to say that within the U.S., New Mexico is considered the most diverse state in the nation. We have a population of close to 2.08 million people, it’s the home of 22 Native American communities, and the hispano latino population is comprised of individuals of Spanish descent who trace the roots to the conquistadores; newly immigrated Mexicans, and other latinos from Central and South America, Cuba, and Puerto Rico.

The cornerstones of the Unidos Project is based on a historical and cultural relevance. It is also embedded with a model that is sustainable to increase student’s success. And this model is based on community organizing, which is based on the collective impact framework. A collective impact framework could cause for institutions of education, institutions of government, community organizations, religious leaders, our community leaders, to come together to solve an issue; and for us it is about increasing latino students’ success. So, together with the help of the Lumina Foundation we have formulated the Unidos Project.

The Unidos Project uses the acequia (ditch) as a model; is a century's old community operated irrigation water delivery system, native to New Mexico. It’s a metaphor for their unique community model. This model describes student’s educational pathways and the roles and responsibilities, and respective tasks of community members that are necessary to optimize the student flow.

The models is operationalize through four strategies that represent components of the acequia; additionally the model is facilitated by the Unidos leadership team which includes a community organizing liaison. You can't see the acequias, pero ¿conocen acequias, verdad? Ahí está (But you know of ditches, right? There it is). So this right here is the picture that we had an artist at the University of New Mexico, a student from our institution as well as a faculty member help to represent our collective impact framework.

So we ask, why are we doing this? We are New Mexico’s natural beauty which interlaces with the rich traditions of our multi-cultural people, we have much to cherish. We live there with the sense of gratitude and responsibility. There’s another side New Mexico’s story, that side is shocking and dark, darker than our night skies. We are chronically challenged by low outcomes for our children and youth.

New Mexico currently ranks 49 among the states in terms of unacceptably large percent of children living in poverty. So right now, New Mexico is in the midst of a national education crisis ranked as the poorest state; we actually switch back and forth from Mississippi with 43 % of our families living in poverty and New Mexico has some of the lowest graduation rates nationally.

In 2011, through 2012 four year high school graduation rates were at 77 % for white students, and 68 % for hispanics; 85 % of New Mexico’s students are enrolled in community colleges but less than half are latino students, and most of these students do not persist, attain a certificate or an associates degree, and they are not deemed transfer ready to go to the university. At our four year institutions in the state, hispanics are twice likely to drop out as their white peers and the six year rate for hispanics is 22 % percent compared to that of whites at 29.

Advanced educational attainment in New Mexico also lacks behind the national average, only 33 % of new Mexicans have earned at least a two year post-secondary degree compared to a 38 nationally number of other students. So I’m trying to give you and provide you a background on why this effort to us is important.

So here are some of the strategies that we have with the Unidos Project: Abriendo la compuerta [Opening the gate]. All the titles of our strategies reflect the acequia and the different components that the acequia offers to help us run the water through, irrigate our beautiful land in New Mexico.

  1. So “Opening the gate” is focusing on providing access and ensuring that greater number of students come in to the educational pathway.

  2. Strategy two is “Increasing the flow” engaged to help students and families understand the transformational power of education and we do this by providing community resource fais because that's not available through schools; but we come together as a collective to offer resources and information and empower and inspire our students and families que, ¡sí se puede se puede! That they can realize their educational dreams and no matter what barriers they have we will be there for them.

  3. Strategy three is [reclaiming the flow] bringing back the students who stopped or dropped out either from high school or college. We want to get those students back so that they finish a certificate or a degree.

  4. And strategy four la limpia "removing those barriers" that our institutions put in place and sometimes they don't even know that those are barriers for students and families; and so through the Unidos Project we’re able to review some of those institutional policies, we’re able to work with our education legislative policy makers to review those policies; and continue to formulate new ones, and also advocate against those that are working against our families.

This is the model for collective impact strategy, we were able to hire community liaison and the reason we hired that person is because we needed to find an individual that was neutral, a neutral person that did not represent an educational institution or a government entity, a person that would bring and build trust within the community.

So using the acequia model we looked for top leaders in those organizations, in particular grassroots organizations because what I can tell you is in the United States and in New Mexico we continue to operate in traditional ways and these ways no longer work to reach our students and families and so we are trying to find innovative ways. So this is our goal, is we want to graduate more hispano-latino students from high school, enroll them into post-secondary education and even get them to think of graduate school. We have now over 80 partners throughout our state working on this movement, and why does this matter? It matters because we want to create a more diverse workforce.

I was reflecting on a professor from Harvard University who came to our institution last week and had created a longitudinal study and what he told us is that even though in the United States we are growing more diverse in population; still 75 % of CEOs and leaders in those organizations are white males and only 12 % are latinos, we need to change that and why do we need to change that? Because once we get leaders that begin to reflect our growing diverse populations we can start to transform the U.S. We can begin to transform and be a leader in the world and right now we are not.

We want to empower students and families in the education process and we also need to continue our work in getting more of a diverse student population in the STEM fields.

Just to let you know that the Unidos Project was designated as a bright spot from the White House on hispanic education; we were honored and we feel that it is our passion to continue this work for years to come, we also have a publication that goes along with this presentation we… Excelencia in education in Washington D.C. is a research organization that looks at increasing latino student success and works congressionally on the congressional level to ensure that the policies at the federal level reflect the needs that we need for this country in terms of education. So there's a website you can go to to get the full brief, so what's next?

I am so exited because with CUMIPAZ we are re-engaged at a world level, but what is most exciting is that we are now beginning to do important work, the work that is needed to begin to transform our state and enhance the work that the Unidos Project is doing. So we are going to be doing an Education Legislative Summit November 30th in partnership with the University of New Mexico’s Unidos Project, CUMIPAZ in the undocumented task force.

So I want to end with a quote from Nelson Mandela: «Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world». And I am truly honored to join CUMIPAZ and my wonderful colleagues in your ideas, in your passion, in your commitment; through CUMIPAZ and hopefully through ALIUP and some of  your other wonderful initiatives, so that together one day we will see peace, full peace, and justice for all. Muchas gracias