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Data will empower community to help kids

LAS CRUCES – The recent death of a proposal in the New Mexico Legislature to expand early childhood education left many education advocates across the state crestfallen. After all, we have heard the statistics about New Mexico before; second in child poverty, second for violent crime, dead last in public education, and a 39.8 percent increase in child abuse victims between 2010 and 2014.

However, there are lesser known statistics that we should be educating ourselves and others about. This is data on the positive impact of early childhood education on a child’s life. This is data on how community schools can transform the lives of young adults. This is local data that empowers the community with information so they can increase their collective impact capacities and improve the lives of residents in Doña Ana County and beyond. This is what we are doing at the Center for Community Analysis (CCA) at New Mexico State University in collaboration with the SUCCESS Partnership.

As program manager of the CCA, I collaborated with other members of the SUCCESS Partnership to analyze the gaps in early childhood education across Doña Ana County. Results revealed that only 36% of children under the age of 5 and 21% of children 2 years of age and younger have access to free or subsidized, evidence-based early childhood education. This is notable since 70% of children under 5 in the county are living below 200% of the federal poverty level. In addition, the analysis found that a mere 18% of parents with children under 5 could comfortably afford to pay for childcare.

 This is discouraging, as numerous scientific studies have demonstrated that the most critical time in the brain development of a child is in the first few years of life. High-quality early childhood education can erase the achievement gap by kindergarten for poor and minority children, and also significantly reduce incidences of child abuse, decrease the likelihood a child will enter the juvenile justice system, and increase the likelihood a child will attend college. Equipped with this data, members of the SUCCESS Partnership began building a county-wide early childhood education referral system to assure children do not fall through the cracks.

In addition to the early childhood initiative, the CCA also helped Lynn Middle School, the first community school in Las Cruces Public School District, to conduct school-wide surveys to assess the needs and assets of the school. Students, staff, and families provided rich data on their needs and vision for the future. Community organizations listened to those needs and have brought in new resources to support students, staff and families. This was imperative for a middle school that is challenged with some of the highest poverty and dropout rates in the district. Community schools help address many of the problems families living in poverty face and support teachers who struggle to meet the numerous needs of at-risk students.

Our goal at the Center for Community Analysis is to provide members of the SUCCESS Partnership and agencies throughout New Mexico with data that is accessible and easy to understand. This effort involves partnering with local and state agencies to conduct studies, as well as maintaining a website that can serve as a data resource for the community. Providing access to data empowers the community to use evidence-based decision making to improve the lives of New Mexicans. My hope is that one day we will no longer see our children at the bottom of every list in the country but instead New Mexico will serve as an example of the power of collaboration. Please visit us at https://cca.nmsu.edu/ for more data and research on Doña Ana County and New Mexico.

Erica Surova is the program manager at the Center for Community Analysis at New Mexico State University.

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