Technology connects N.M. border school with parents in Mexico

Posted: Sunday, February 23, 2014 7:45 pm
Associated Press

A southwestern New Mexico school by the U.S.-Mexico border is using technology to keep in touch with hundreds of parents, some who they have yet to meet in person.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that more than 300 students come every day from Palomas, Mexico, to various schools in Luna County, including Columbus Elementary School.

The students are U.S. citizens who were born in Deming, N.M., which has the closest hospital to Palomas.

Officials say the children are allowed through the U.S. port of entry in Columbus daily to attend school through an agreement dating back to the 1950s. A typical school day starts with parents in Mexico walking hundreds of students up to the port. There, the children show passports or birth certificates before being allowed through. They then climb onto a school bus and head to Columbus or Deming, which is another 30 minutes away.

“Parents trust us with their children, and they don’t even know what we look like,” Columbus Elementary Principal Armando Chavez said.

The school is using technology such as Skype to video-chat and keep parents informed.

School district employees are prohibited from crossing into Mexico for work, Chavez said. Parents are not often reachable by phone, and few of them can access email. Skype helps bridge the communication gap, he said.

“In order for us to help the child, not only with academics but with any problem the child is coming to school with, we must be in a constant communication and become a team: the teacher, myself and the parent,” Chavez said.

A teacher who owns a restaurant in Palomas hosted a conference last May with parents at his restaurant using video chat. About 80 families showed up.

Chavez said he hopes to use technology more next year and have weekly video conferences.

Like other schools in Southern New Mexico, Columbus is dealing with students from low-income backgrounds with little English proficiency.

Columbus Elementary received an F grade from state education officials the past two years.

According to state figures, 32 percent of students tested at adequate levels for reading last year and only 33 percent tested proficient for math. Educators say many students from Palomas don’t have books at home and they never held a pencil before starting kindergarten.

Some critics argue that despite their U.S. citizenship, these students shouldn’t be attending American schools because their parents don’t pay taxes.

But New Mexico officials said the state constitution requires public schools be open to all school-age children regardless of residence.

“If a child shows up at the schoolhouse door, we provide them with an education,” Deputy Education Secretary Paul Aguilar said.