BERNALILLO — Bernalillo Public Schools looks to help honor and preserve the home language and culture of its indigenous and Hispanic communities.
And the district’s new literacy program, which launched with a series of workshops Saturday at Bernalillo High School, is meant to aid in that.
“You have to bridge between the cultures. So, this type of program will help us to better understand how we better bridge between the cultures,” BPS superintendent Matt Montaño said. “We don’t believe literacy means losing language and culture. It means using language and culture, and becoming an additive component to gaining literacy.”
BPS serves 11 communities, including seven Pueblo communities. By preserving one’s language and culture, Montaño said that helps empower families as their child progresses through the school system.
Montaño said storytelling’s a critical part of the program because storytelling itself is culturally ingrained in the area’s Hispanic and indigenous communities.
The communities Bernalillo Public Schools serves is comprised of 47 percent Native American and indigenous students and 45 percent Hispanic students, he said.
He also said about 40 percent of all Bernalillo Public Schools students are considered English learners, meaning their influence of language at home isn’t necessarily English.
Declaring 2022 the Year of Literacy, New Mexico Public Education Department secretary Kurt Steinhaus, one of the keynote speakers, said literacy should start with whichever home language a family uses.
“If we’re able to be supportive of families to help them learn and preserve their home languages and also learn English, then I think we’re moving in the right direction,” he said. “It’s important academically to achieve in school. And it’s just as important for the child’s well being, how they feel about themselves as they come to a school, and their language and culture is part of what they see.”
In all, there were 15 educational sessions Saturday spread out by two or three grades per session, ranging from preschool all the way through high school.
The sessions for the elementary schoolers and their families included reading and foundational writing. For middle schoolers and their families, sessions included tips on having meaningful conversations beyond one-word answers, plus vocabulary expansion. For high schoolers and their families, sessions included using reading to help older teenagers engage in open ended conversations, as well as how to turn arguments into productive debates.
Sessions open to all age groups included one geared toward giving school staff and community members an avenue for equitable educational practices and to empower families. Other notable sessions included how reading and writing letters help preserve family connections.