More than half -- 51 percent -- of the state's K-12 students have returned to school for in-person learning, according to an April 21st statement from the New Mexico Public Education Department.
For the Taos Municipal Schools District, 48.6 percent of students have returned for in-class instruction. For the Peñasco Independent School District, 35 percent returned to the elementary school and 37 percent to the middle and high school, according to school administrators.
In early March, the Biden Administration prioritized vaccinations for teachers and staff in order to safely move U.S. school children back into the classroom, while Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has led the nation in getting available vaccines into the arms of New Mexicans.
"The virus is still with us, and for our schools to remain open for in-person learning, all New Mexicans must remain vigilant about following COVID-safe practices and obeying the Public Health Order regarding large indoor gatherings," said Ryan Stewart, Secretary of the New Mexico Public Education Department. "COVID fatigue is real, but we have to stay the course a little longer."
For administrators, teachers, parents and students, the COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented upheaval, as families have had to adjust to remote learning for the better part of a year. The decision to return to class or remain remote is largely trying to find a balance between students' physical safety and their mental well-being.
Taos News sat down with three families to find out how the transition back into the classroom for full-time in-person learning was going.
Two at Taos High
Maria Meadowcroft sent her two children back to Taos High School for hybrid learning in late February. She said both Max, a senior, and Malia, a freshman, really wanted to get back to in-person learning.
"It's a little challenging for them sometimes, because they're still online -- they're doing each of their classes online, but in a classroom now," said Meadowcroft.
She was able to keep her job at Centinel Bank throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, because her children are young adults and don't need constant supervision. "Fortunately, Malia had Max, and he was able to help her navigate the online [learning]. They kind of helped each other," she said.
Two weeks after they returned to in-class learning, Max was able to resume his football season with the Taos Tigers, and Malia went back to basketball -- and now softball.
"I think it's good that they have the opportunity to play sports," said Meadowcroft. "I think they need that outlet. But I can't wait for the day that they can go back and actually move around from class to class and interact with more people -- more kids and more teachers."
Max is now prepping for his AP exams -- he plans to study computer science at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in the fall.
And he's looking forward to graduation, Meadowcroft added. "Obviously, the hope is to be able to have in-person graduations, socially-distant, out on Anaya Field. And the number of attendees depends on the [red to green] color-code system."
Second-grader at Enos
Monica Madrid's son Joseph is a second-grader at Enos Garcia Elementary School in Taos. Joseph, 7, studies in the dual-language program, and returned to full-time in-person learning April 12.
"He wanted to go back," said Madrid, who said Joseph is socially active in school, and was getting tired of remote learning. "But he did like staying in his pajamas most of the day."
Joseph was one of nine students who returned to Teddie Zarasua's classroom -- four others opted to stay with remote learning. "That's a fabulous ratio for a dual language program," she said.
Madrid's husband works for Rio Arriba County, but she was forced to quit her job as a nonprofit consultant in August 2020 in order to stay home with her son.
Madrid said the school's breakfast and lunch program was a real help -- she walked the short distance to school five days a week to pick them up. "The school was very supportive with its outreach," she said.
Tamara Trujillo has two small children who attend Anansi Charter School in El Prado. Her son Jay, in the 3rd grade, and daughter Audra, in Kindergarten, returned to in-class learning at the end of March.
"My daughter is so happy to be in-person with her teachers. She was struggling with the reading because of how hard it was with pronunciation of letters over the computer. You know, the internet here is patchy," said Trujillo. "And so is Jay -- he's happy to be back with his friends. I know -- emotionally -- it was very difficult to be away from their friends socially for a year."
Their return to school has opened up a lot more free time for Trujillo to run the household and take care of deferred projects. "I haven't had a minute, unless I left the kids at home with their dad, while I would run to the store. There was no break for me."
Trujillo said she had to leave her job last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. "My husband works out of town every day, and he gets in at about 4:15. We just didn't have the childcare availability anymore, because when the school closed, so did the after school program that they used to stay in," she said.
Trujillo had been working at Heart of Taos, a homeless women's shelter. Now, she is looking to start her own business. "If COVID-19 taught me one thing, it was that there is no flexibility in the workforce for working parents when your kids are not at school."
Trujillo said the Anansi Charter School was very supportive, with regular classes at regular times every day. "I really don't feel like my son lost much of his instruction -- lost any of his knowledge -- being online schooling," she said. "Our director, Michele Hunt, is amazing. And she has been -- her and all of the staff -- a huge support for any issues that have come up in my children's learning."
"I've been very impressed and very grateful that my kids are in such a student-learning-focused school," said Trujillo.