Peñasco schools awarded $80,000 in state grants

By Doug Cantwell
dcantwell@taosnews.com
Posted 1/10/20

Two new grant awards totaling $80,000 will enrich programs in the Peñasco school district this year.

The district received $30,000 from the Public Education Department's computer science grant program, which provides funding on a competitive basis for staff to increase their professional learning in computer science or to launch or expand a CS program.

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Peñasco schools awarded $80,000 in state grants

Posted

Two new grant awards totaling $80,000 will enrich programs in the Peñasco school district this year.

The district received $30,000 from the Public Education Department's computer science grant program, which provides funding on a competitive basis for staff to increase their professional learning in computer science or to launch or expand a CS program.

Superintendent Lisa Hamilton, who hired on with the district in July of this year, wrote the grant applications. "We plan to use the funds to uptrain current staff and expand our CS course offerings," she said in a Jan. 2 phone interview.

Peñasco High School staff member Jessica Esquibel got the district's computer science program off the ground two years ago, taking professional development training that enabled her to teach classes in software coding.

In writing the grant, Hamilton proposed using the funds to augment regular course offerings with an extended learning opportunity - specifically, an optional half-day program on Friday morning for grades 7-12. "It will be fun and less formal," she said, "as an extended learning opportunity ought to be." The Peñasco district currently operates on a four-day, Monday-Thursday schedule.

For starters, the Friday program will offer coding, robotics, Cisco network administration and cybersecurity. Hamilton plans to hire a part-time instructor to support Esquibel and also to provide current staff members with training to teach additional computer science sections during the regular school week.

"It's critical that we provide a foundation for CS career paths," said Hamilton. "It will open doors for students whether they plan to go on to a four-year college, a two-year college or go directly into the workforce."

The distract already collaborates with Northern New Mexico College on a dual-credit program that enables students to acquire CS credits that count toward both high school graduation and a college degree. "Our new Friday program will better prepare our students to succeed in their college-level courses," she said.

According to a statement from Shafiq Chaudhary, math and science specialist at PED, the grant program is "designed to promote innovation in the critical area of computer science by expanding access to high-quality computer science course work for New Mexico students."

Community school grant will fund planning phase

Hamilton also applied for and received a planning grant under PED's Community Schools program. New Mexico House Bill 589, which Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law in April of 2019, builds on the Community Schools Act of 2013, providing each district that applies with a $50,000 grant to assess a district's specific needs and determine the best way to apply the community school model.

"The grant requires that we engage with the community to identify needs," Hamilton said. The assessment specifies four focus areas: integrated student supports, family engagement, expanded and extended learning and shared leadership.

"We want to build on our current student supports," Hamilton added. "So far, we have a school-based health clinic operated by El Centro Family Health."

The clinic is open Tuesdays and Thursdays for medical and social work and Wednesdays for just social work. All students are welcome; those without insurance are treated at no charge.

The elementary school has a nurturing center, sponsored by Las Cumbres Community Services, that provides a calm, safe environment for students who are experiencing stress.

"They stay for a brief time until they're able to return to class," Hamilton added. "We also envision an academic intervention program for students who require tutoring and emotional support."

To engage families, Hamilton plans to hold a monthly event that offers fun, educational activities as well as opportunities to share leadership and decision-making for the community school.

"We plan on offering other Friday opportunities as well," said Hamilton, "such as tutoring, cooking and art."

One of the fundamental pillars of the community school model is shared leadership. "This means that parents and community members will actively share in the decision-making process," she added, "to help shape and support the programs, services and goals of the community school."

Once the Peñasco district has submitted the needs assessment, it will be eligible to apply for a $150,000 grant for each of three successive years to put its community school plan into practice. If the district can demonstrate need, it can reapply for the grant for a fourth year.

"In our community, 75 percent of families are in the SNAP program [USDA food stamps]," said Hamilton. "So I don't think there's any question that we can demonstrate need."

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