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New Mexico Student Protests and the Common Good

Written by Julie Radoslovich

Creating a safe space at a school contributes to the common good in ways that reverberate throughout a community. South Valley Academy, a public charter school in Albuquerque’s South Valley, is continually working to align values with action, and the reaction to the walkouts in protest of the PARCC (The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) testing last month was just one more example of this. Ms. Radolslovich and her staff refused to let the media threats of arrest of her students and fear from the community get in the way of providing a safe haven for students who were exercising their right to free speech and putting their values into action. While the controversy over the PARCC testing continues, and regardless of how you feel about the issue, supporting students and their families is always a decision based on values and principles. A decision to support the common good, and how we are all ultimately responsible for each other. - Alicia Lueras Maldonado 

On the second day of PARCC protests this past March, I watched a sea of students turn right onto Blake Road from Old Coors Boulevard and converge onto our campus from schools across the South Valley and West Side.  It was a poignant moment; I realized that my responsibilities as a school leader extended to the students of the South Valley, and more broadly to the students of color in our community and beyond.  The protesting scholars were welcomed onto our school grounds.  With APS officials we hoped we could offer a listening space to hear their concerns.  Within minutes, social media spread rumors that students were going to be arrested, and as quickly as students arrived they departed.  A few lingered and received rides from parents.  Some West Mesa High School students met with South Valley Academy students and discussed ways they might have their voice heard at community meetings, and scheduled a gathering off site for later that evening.

The next morning, I posted the following message on our school marquee:  SVA Values Our South Valley Children. I needed to let our students, families, and community know that we care, and our students let us know that they care as well.  About a dozen students spoke at the APS Board Meeting the next day; several SVA students also participated in a UNM grass roots, social-movement forum the following weekend; another group of South Valley Academy students traveled to Santa Fe on their own time to speak to State representatives, and SVA students have been involved in meetings with the offices of Senator Udall, Senator Heinrich, and Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham.

Our school held an assembly with students as well.  I conveyed my fears about student safety and potential arrests at other APS campuses, and asked that students focus on school while finding other venues to speak their opinions.  Student leaders addressed their peers and answered questions.  It was an important dialogue and gathering space, a chance to reflect as a school on the events that had transpired. Students at other schools said they did not have this same opportunity. 

Regardless of whether you believe students were justified or not in their protests against PARCC testing, we must take care of our children as a community.  Where young people witness or suspect injustice, they are not going to simply watch.  They will speak out as has been the case across the country.  In a blog called Living in Dialogue, Sarah Lahm, a Minneapolis-based writer and public school parent notes that “In the past year, from Baltimore to Philadelphia, Newark to Chicago, and California to Colorado, high school students have led the way in carrying out protests–about the intersection of education, injustice, racism, and power. This active organizing has built a foundation that could make this year a turning point, and make 2015 the Year of the Student.”  As students find voice, how do we as adults aid their capacity to express their opinions freely, effectively, and safely?

School continues, with graduation only weeks away.  Young people across New Mexico are part of a national movement saying that the lives of youth matter. Today, as a school leader, I better understand that my obligations extend to all children.    Children of color and not; children of wealth and not; children of the South Valley and not.  For the common good and for the benefit of all, my obligations extend to all children and, I submit, your obligations do as well.

Photo Credit: KRQE News 13 

This entry continues our series highlighting the work of our allies in New Mexico and the common good in action. Click here to read the previous entry.

Service and Social Change Common Good in Action New Mexico