Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Story from the Northside


Charro Carrasco and Vladimiro Pino

By Laura Binah

Although  we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, most people do, so it’s not surprising that North Campus is often judged by its barbed wire fence, graffiti & litter-lined alleys, and the street people who stop in  to use the restroom or grab a cup of coffee . And, in general, our student population of  “drop outs” and “immigrants” is often judged as academically and socially irrelevant.

However,  in New Mexico-- where the drop-out rate is one of the highest in the nation-- and in a place like Gallup with a greater diversity of immigrants than most people realize-- Adult Education is a priceless opportunity at getting life back on track, or  starting a new life all together!

Starting school  as an adult— maybe even in a new language—requires courage---courage to grow, to learn, and to stand up to the humiliation of being labeled a “basic skills” student when you  are  a mature and experienced human being. For many of our students, it also takes courage to speak up to their families or  challenge  dysfunctional relationships in order to continue their studies.

With all of this in mind, a few years ago, the Adult Education Program developed an arts-based curriculum, not only for teaching the academic trifecta of reading, writing, and math, but also to help students develop self-expression, self-esteem, and social skills. During this transitional phase in our program, a young man from Peru—Vladi Pino-- enrolled in our ESL class. Soon we discovered that Vladi was a professional artist and had come to Gallup for his work as a volunteer with the international aid organization, 4th World Movement ATD whose mission is to help free people from poverty  using the arts and literacy.  Soon, North Campus and 4th World established a formal partnership, and Vladi became our art instructor.

Vladi  taught painting and paper cutting, oversaw the creation of three murals  by inmates in our classroom at the McKinley County Adult Detention Center, led a drawing workshop for our program at Zuni Campus, and documented all of our projects with his photography skills. Yet his heart was set on completing a mosaic. When he proposed the idea, we were excited as well. First, because we had long wanted to brighten our boring entryway. Second, a mosaic would serve as the perfect medium to reflect our mission of helping people pick up the pieces of broken lives and put them together into something new and beautiful.  And, third, what a wonderful way to engage our community!

With the help of a mini-grant from UNM-G, we launched  the project last February. Vladi—along with North Campus  instructors, Shawn Ashley and Bryston Bowannie—collaborated  with our students to  design  the mosaic.

The main intention was to  inspire new students as they entered the building for the first time—transforming fear into optimism. Students also wanted images that reflected the values of our Adult Education Center.  Once the design had been decided, students began outlining the images on the walls. Vladi began teaching mosaic application techniques. North Campus student, Laroy Benally, served as co-artist. Throughout the summer, our students,  staff, 4th World volunteers, and Youth Conversation Corps members, worked meticulously to place the tiles. Come fall, neighborhood children, participants in the North Campus AA group affiliated with Hozho Center, and even a Belgian filmmaker, Xavier Lukomski, contributed to the completion of the mosaic.

While colored tiles were used to create specific parts of the design,   broken liquor bottles that are scattered throughout the alleys and vacant lots around our building were also collected. These richly tinted shards soon blossomed into flowers sprouting along the bottom of the mosaic.

As winter approached, the completion of the mosaic was in sight---and timed with the departure of Vladi and his family. 4th world had reassigned them to their homeland for a new project, so  the moment was right to celebrate the mosaic before our dear friend and colleague left the country.

On Wednesday, November 26—a crisp yet comfortably sunny morning, over 100 people gathered in front of UNM-G North Campus to officially dedicate our newly completed community art project.

The ceremony began with the introduction of our community collaborators and honored guests, including Lynn Olinger and her husband Chuck from the Gallup Service Mart Quilters, and Father Abel Olivas, pastor at St. Francis Church (and former North Campus ESL student.)  Vladi was presented with a Certificate of Appreciation from North Campus, and the title of the art project was finally revealed, “Entrance to Opportunity.” Students Lystra John and Peggy McNeill read poems they composed for the occasion.   Students Benjamin Damon presented a jar of Navajo tea and Jasmine  Yazzie, a handmade Navajo doll. On behalf of the program, Bryston Bowannie offered a Zuni bear fetish carved by his father, and Laura Jijon presented a coral necklace made by Pauline Livingston, administrative assistant in Community Education.

Before returning to Europe, the aforementioned filmmaker, had brought a bottle of champagne to North Campus with the request that it be used to “christen” the mosaic.
Vladi’s wife, Charo Carrasco Cuba—also a 4th World Volunteer and ESL student at North Campus—was given the honors of breaking the bottle. She asked everyone to join hands to represent our community. After several attempts and with a little help from friend of North Campus, Katie, the bottle shattered and frothy foamy champagne showered over a delighted crowd. Then Vladi—as artistic mentor and representing 4th World—Dina Dominguez, representing UNM-G Adult Education staff & Benjamin Damon representing students—John White, representing YCC—and all of the children in attendance cut the ribbon allowing everyone to pass through the “Entrance to Opportunity.”

Once inside, a homemade multicultural feast of Navajo tacos, Chinese Noodles, Mexican Beef Soup, Mutton Stew,  and Chicken salad, along with Zuni oven bread, Navajo frybread,  Mexican rolls, a variety of  cheeses and fruits and cakes—awaited the guests. The dining area was one of our classrooms rearranged and decorated by students overseen by North Campus receptionist Loretta Yazzie. Don “Dawn” Martinez, GED Testing Site Manager and Liaison, offered a Navajo Blessing, and Barbra Telynor—North Campus Advisor-- provided harp music. While adults ate, talked, and laughed,  children happily played around a room filled with aunties, uncles, grandmas and friends.

Just a few days ago, the local newspaper ran a headline that Gallup is now considered the most violent town in New Mexico according to the FBI. Violence and lack of education are intimately  related. Most of our students share stories of the horrific violence of their lives with each other and our staff on a daily basis: suicides, rapes, domestic abuse, murder, gangs & drugs. . . In the last year we have mourned the deaths of students, and the family members of  staff from the violence for which our area is now infamous. While we are always saddened by such tales, from our experience, we are also convinced of the  power of education to transform violence and the power of art to heal.

Creating this mosaic,  students learned historical, cultural, and artistic research as well as geometrical concepts.  They learned color theory and the science of temperature and its impact on viscosity. They learned the depth and breadth of symbolism. They also learned teamwork,  communication,  patience, and persistence. They learned the value of satisfaction.  They learned how community can support and encourage. They learned the worth of legacy and offering a gift to the future. And they learned pride--in themselves, in their learning, in their school.  As the mosaic glistens in the afternoon sun of early winter, the barbed  wire,  graffiti, and litter fade in the brilliance of a courageous and creative learning community, and Hope Rises. . . 

Click here to see more pictures 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Holiday in New Mexico

The 2nd annual “Holiday in New Mexico” will be hosted on Monday, December 2nd complete with entertainment, posole, biscochitos, luminarias, a balloon glow, games and fun.  The holiday celebration will begin at 5:00 PM and continue until 8:00 PM.  Embedded within this year’s event is a special opera performance by students from the UNM College of Fine Arts who will be performing “The Bear Essentials of Opera” which is a family-friendly musical version of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”  Led by professors Leslie Umphrey and Sam Sheppardson, the fine arts students will also perform two school time performances of their show on Tuesday, December 2.
            Holiday in New Mexico is a way of celebrating with the Gallup community and thanking our students and their families for choosing UNM-Gallup. 

SkillsUSA Conference Hosted by UNM-Gallup

While the UNM-Gallup students were enjoying a much-deserved fall break, the UNM-G campus became the designated starting point for the SkillsUSA New Mexico 2014 Fall Service Learning and Leadership Conference.  The statewide conference took place from Saturday, October 11-Monday, October 13th.  Student delegates from every section of New Mexico convened to take part in leadership training seminars and perform service learning projects as part of “Project Helping Hands.” 
The gusty winds did little to dampen the enthusiasm of these future leaders who worked to make improvements at the following work sites:
1)    Playground of Dreams – participants sanded and sealed the individual wooden beams of the community-built playground and cleaned up the entire site to make it safer for children;
2)    Zuni Fairgrounds-the students disassembled the entire fairgrounds area to prepare the area for construction of a new community center.  Under the direction of welding instructor Joe Sanchez the crew battled the high winds that resulted in more than one episode of singed hair to completely tear down the bleachers and all surrounding fences; 
3)    Manuelito Children’s Home-the roof of the gymnasium was reinforced by the Skills USA students at this facility which specializes in the care of Native American children.
             All the participants exemplified the mission of Skills USA which is to “empower its members to become world-class workers, leaders and responsible American citizens.”  Ann Jarvis, faculty sponsor for the UNM-Gallup SkillsUSA chapter notes that “the Service Learning and Leadership Conference allowed UNM-G students the opportunity see what was going on with other students around the state and allowed them to take a leadership role.”  Twenty-three UNM-G students participated in the conference.  Other faculty advisors for the UNM-G SkillsUSA group are Joe Sanchez and Robert Encinio.

Young Authors Conference

UNM-Gallup provided the space for the Gallup Young Authors’ Conference on Friday, October 24th.  Approximately 170 5th graders from the Gallup McKinley County School District attended the event where they were able to participate in a variety of writing workshops intended to improve and expand their writing abilities. 
            According to event organizer Toni Skalican, the goal of the conference was to have “each student leave the conference with generated pre-writing techniques for engaging an audience in stories, and ultimately, the intrinsic motivation to write for personal growth and fulfillment.  The conference, as a pilot, will serve as a sustainable model for writing initiatives in other school districts, carrying on annually for Gallup McKinley County students for years to come.” 
            Facilitators for the writing workshops were Carolyn Kuchera (UNM-Gallup), Carmela Lanza (UNM-Gallup), Sonya Burton (UNM-Gallup), Phil Neilson (JFK Middle School), Elizabeth Lawrence (Gallup Middle School), and Toni Skalican (Gallup Middle School).  Conference participants participated in workshops during the morning and early afternoon, enjoyed lunch in the Gurley Hall Commons and took a campus tour to round out their day at UNM-Gallup. 

UNM Gallup awarded TAACCCT Grant

UNM-Gallup is part of an 11 school consortium that was recently awarded the Department of Labor Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant.  The SUN PATH project was awarded to the New Mexico group as part of an application that emphasizes allied health care and cybersecurity career pathways.
The TAACCCT grant is intended to provide job training to veterans, employees who have lost their jobs due to work being outsourced internationally, and low-skilled adults.   TAACCCT grants are provided to community colleges and other institutions of higher education to expand and improve the delivery of career training programs that can be completed in two years or less and prepare participants of the program for employment in high skill and high wage occupations. 
            The Department of Labor is helping to ensure that community colleges help adults succeed in acquiring skills, industry credentials and degrees for employment in high paying jobs.  At the same time, the program helps institutions of higher education meet the needs of employers for high skilled workers.  Through partnerships with local employers, TAACCCT grant recipients are able to design curriculum, hire faculty and put programs in place to accelerate the rate at which students complete their certificate and degree requirements and enter into the workforce.
            UNM-Gallup, under the direction of Project Director Laura Blalock, will introduce a new curriculum that combines Health Information Technology and Information Technology into a new Electronic Health Records certificate.  This program will prepare graduates to enter into the medical technology field at a time when changing federal regulations are requiring a more advanced skill set than in the past.
            UNM-Gallup was awarded $867,000 over three years to roll out the EHR program.  Funds are available to hire needed faculty and staff to instruct in the program and provide support to student participants.  Also funded will be a new simulation lab for the nursing program.  Local industry partners include Rehoboth McKinley Christian Healthcare Services, the Greater Gallup Economic Development Corporation and the Gallup McKinley County School District.
            Partnering institutions in the New Mexico consortium include:  Santa Fe Community College (lead institution), Central New Mexico Community College, UNM-Valencia, UNM-Taos, UNM-Los Alamos, San Juan Community College, Mesalands Community College, Eastern New Mexico-Roswell, NMSU-Alamogordo, ENMU-Ruidoso.
            The UNM-Gallup TAACCCT planning team worked closely with the other partnering institutions for several months to prepare the successful grant proposal.  Work has already begun to fill the grant-funded positions, submit new curriculum for approval and recruit students into the program. 
Insert picture of Laura Blalock