Bernalillo Schools New Literacy Program to Help Honor the Home Languages ​​and Cultures of Hispanic and Indigenous Communities

Families arrive to participate in workshops as part of the new Bernalillo Public Schools Literacy Program Saturday, March 19, 2022 at Bernalillo High School. (Matt Hollinshead/Observer)

BERNALILLO – Bernalillo Public Schools seeks to help honor and preserve the native language and culture of its Indigenous and Hispanic communities.

And the district’s new literacy program, which launched Saturday with a series of workshops at Bernalillo High School, is meant to help with that.

New Mexico Department of Public Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus, one of the keynote speakers, speaks to families about the new Bernalillo Public Schools Literacy Program Saturday, March 19, 2022, at Bernalillo High School. (Matt Hollinshead/Observer)

“You have to bridge cultures. So this type of program will help us better understand how we can better bridge cultures,” said BPS Superintendent Matt Montaño. “We don’t believe that literacy means the loss of language and culture. It means using language and culture and becoming an additive part of literacy.

BPS serves 11 communities, including seven Pueblo communities. By preserving their language and culture, Montaño said it helps empower families as their child progresses through the school system.

Montaño said storytelling is an essential part of the program because storytelling itself is culturally embedded in the region’s Hispanic and indigenous communities.

The communities served by Bernalillo Public Schools are made up of 47% Native American and Indigenous students and 45% Hispanic students, he said.

He also said that about 40% of all public school students in Bernalillo are considered English learners, which means their influence on the language at home is not necessarily English.

Declaring 2022 the Year of Literacy, New Mexico Department of Public Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus, one of the keynote speakers, said literacy should begin with the language spoken at home by a family.

“If we are able to support families to help them learn and preserve their mother tongue and also learn English, then I think we are moving in the right direction,” he said. “It is academically important to do well in school. And it’s just as important for the child’s well-being, how they feel when they come to school, and their language and culture are part of what they see.

In all, there were 15 educational sessions on Saturday divided into two or three classes per session, ranging from kindergarten to high school.

Sessions for elementary students and their families included basic reading and writing. For middle schoolers and their families, the sessions included tips for having meaningful conversations beyond one-word answers, as well as vocabulary expansion. For high school students and their families, sessions included using reading to help older teens engage in open conversations, as well as how to turn arguments into productive debates.

Among the sessions open to all age groups, one focused on empowering school staff and community members to adopt equitable educational practices and empower families. Other notable sessions focused on how reading and writing letters help preserve family ties.

Bernalillo Public Schools Superintendent Matt Montaño speaks to families about the district’s new literacy program Saturday, March 19, 2022, at Bernalillo High School. (Matt Hollinshead/Observer)

Ryan H. Bowman