Mesilla Park Elementary School, 955 W. Union Ave., received exciting news recently: The school is the newest campus within Las Cruces Public Schools to be recognized as a community school.
According to the district’s community schools manager, the designation means a wealth of opportunities for students and their families.
“This announcement changes things considerably for our Mesilla Park community,” said Naomi Chavez Lopez, a nine-year veteran of the district who took the helm of Community Schools at LCPS in December.
Chavez Lopez said the school applied with the state for the designation last summer and is part of LCPS Superintendent Ralph Ramos’ strategic plan to eventually have all LCPS schools designated as community schools.
“It is a lengthy and intentional process,” said Chavez Lopez. “Meetings happen with school staff to assess the unique needs of Mesilla Park (Elementary), and input from families is essential to determine what specific needs will be prioritized and resourced with community partners.”
Those partners, according to Chavez Lopez, include local organizations like Families and Youth Plus (formerly FYI), the Boys and Girls Club and Casa de Peregrinos (emergency food program).
“Their focus in our community schools is to assist with general needs, like food insecurity, health care and classroom enrichment,” she added. “But Mesilla Park will decide what the custom fit is for their school community through conversations with staff and families.”
Chavez Lopez explained that one possible need in the Mesilla Park community could be groceries and “basic life needs,” since the school – located on Union Avenue between the city limits of Las Cruces and the town of Mesilla – is so rural.
“These schools truly are the hub of their communities,” said LCPS Federal Programs Executive Director Carla Ragan, who oversees Community Schools. “The possibilities Mesilla Park has to connect and sustain their families to outside resources will have a tremendous impact on students’ performance in the classroom. Studies show that kids who have all their needs met do better in school and have overall more positive outcomes.”
Ragan pointed to the success of an after-school program at Booker T. Washington Elementary which provides a hot meal and tutoring services for students. The program is made possible through grant funding and assistance from Families and Youth Plus.
Chavez Lopez said one of the biggest changes families at Mesilla Park will see is the addition of a dedicated community schools coordinator that will be working directly with families to provide assistance. It is a paradigm shift, she says, that is here to stay at LCPS.
Then National Education Association (NEA) President Lily Eskselsen Garcia was in Las Cruces Jan. 19, 2017, for the ribbon-cutting that officially recognized Lynn as Las Cruces’ first community school and an early model for the success of the program in New Mexico.
The Las Cruces Partnership for Community Schools, begun in 2016, is a collaborative effort among LCPS, the City of Las Cruces, NEA-Las Cruces, New Mexico State University and local nonprofits, businesses, faith-based organizations, students, educators and families, according to LCPS. The partnership’s goal is “transforming schools into neighborhood hubs.”
Since 2017, LCPS has added MacArthur, Doña Ana and Booker T. Washington, Alameda and now Mesilla Park elementaries as community schools.