The Deming Public Schools has been educating students crossing the border from Mexico for more than 60 years. Simon Thompson takes a look at the unique set of challenges the district faces in continuing this education legacy.
Students have been crossing the US Mexico border to attend classes in the Deming Public Schools since 1948. The isolated Mexican border town of Palomas didn’t have a school of its. That’s since changed. Ricardo Gutierrez and his siblings were some of the first Mexican students in the Deming district. His family moved from up from the interior of Mexico just for the opportunity.
“We were fortunate the Deming public schools to let us come over here and have the opportunity to better ourselves as human beings not only to study- but a lot of the times they would give us food and we didn’t have the resources, they would just give you the food free and everything.” Gutierrez said.
Guiterrez, worked his way through the U.S. education system, recently receiving his Masters in Education from New Mexico State University. Now he teaches 5th grade at Columbus elementary; the school he attended as a child.
“They gave me the opportunity, so we are giving back to the community.” Guiterrez said.
Palomas has since opened its own school. About 20 years ago, Deming had to stop accepting Mexican students. But the district still accepts Mexican students who are U.S. citizens.
About 10% of the students in the Deming Public Schools live in Mexico, half attending Columbus Elementary live in Mexico so much of the curriculum is tailored to their needs.
Most of them speak English as a second language. Principal Armando Chavez says that is a challenge, but one his teachers are meeting.
“The chemistry the needs to be in place for our children in order for them to receive and equitable education. We are providing children with an environment where there is simultaneous learning in both languages at the same tim we don’t want our children to lose our home language' Chavez said.
A Michigan State University study took a look at math and reading scores at Texas schools and found that even Native English speakers did better at schools with bilingual education.
But 5th grade teacher Ricardo Gutierrez says there’s another challenge one common for many students regardless of where they live: the need to impart discipline and aspiration for a better life.
“I am a very strict person with my students, because why- I want them to better themselves. I don’t want my students to come and work in the fields here. I want my students to go get a college education and better their lives..”
Not everyone living in the Deming area says educational resources should be so tailored to the needs of students living in Mexico. Russ Howell is the Luna County chair of the Republican party.
“They don’t live in the United States so that forces the state of New Mexico to pay for their education as well as those of us that are taxed in the Luna county to pay for them too”
Howell says she’s concerned that allowances, like the one being made by the Deming Public Schools, motivates people to exploit birthright citizenship.
“They are getting a free education because their mother decided to give birth in the United States rather than back in Mexico where they live.”
But according to the Columbus Chamber of Commerce the relationship between Columbus, New Mexico and Palomas, Mexico is mutually beneficial. The organization says the students crossing the border every day are part of that, making up half of the 800 pedestrians who cross each day.
Principal Chavez says if there are concerns about American citizens in Mexico not paying their share then that is even more reason to make sure they are getting a good education,
“We want to educate our children to the best of our ability, not to live off the system that the government provides we want them to come across and to go to college and be successful and we project that as a staff and we do that in the most positive way possible“.
In 2012 and 2013 the state gave Columbus Elementary an “F” grade. The school has seen major improvements since then scoring a ‘B’ grade in 2015.