2022 Teacher of the Year: State should remove the student age cap for PED funding

Lorynn Guerrero helps launch an early childhood program inside a charter high school to help students who are new moms

By: - January 14, 2022 6:00 am

New America School-Las Cruces is a charter school in southern New Mexico.

New Mexico’s 2022 teacher of the year wants everyone to get their high school diploma. 

Lorynn Guerrero was a night school teacher when she started at New America School-Las Cruces, a charter school serving migrants age 14 and older, and their families. At the time, the school offered adult education programs to help people get their diploma.

“They would come in at 5:30, and they would stay from 5:30 to 8:30,” she recalled. “I taught English to the adults, and my oldest student had to have been over 50-years-old.”

Lorryn Guerrero

In 2019, state lawmakers passed a law banning schools from spending Public Education Department money on students 21-years and older. To Guerrero’s dismay, the age limit means she won’t have any more classrooms with 50-year-old students. 

She had to drown out the commentary from people who supported the legislation by saying these students “had their opportunity and lost it,” she said, because the reality for her students can be daunting and can often follow a pattern she’s seen many times.

“We’ve seen students everywhere have lost family members. Or students everywhere, their families’ jobs are lost, and so the kids have to step in and work for the families to help provide for them,” she said. “So if we offer these opportunities for them to come in the evenings, these alternative pathways, then the students will be successful in getting a high school diploma.”

While she would like to see the age cap for PED funding removed again, older students can still get their GED through various programs.

The 2022 Teacher of the Year

Guerrero started her teaching career in Hatch in 2006 and has also taught at Organ Mountain High School in Las Cruces. She primarily teaches English-language arts and is a graduate of New Mexico State University. She was nominated for New Mexico’s Teacher of the Year by her principal and will receive a $10,000 stipend for professional development.
 And Guerrero has taken on another project — to support teen parents. 

During the pandemic, New America School-Las Cruces was certified to run the only early childhood program in a charter high school in southern New Mexico. To kick off the 2021-2022 school year, New America opened the child care facility on campus for high school students that are also new parents. In December, the facility, which operates separately from the school, received its full license. 

Four babies are in the daycare. When school returned last week, New America School-Las Cruces welcomed its newest and youngest community member, a 2-month-old. 

“Everybody knows all the babies in the child care center. And so we talk about them as if they’re our own students,” she said. “You know little Alice, how was she doing today? She had an attitude. She was grumpy. You know, little Cesar, he’s doing great. He’s walking. And so like, we’re all celebrating in math class that this little baby is walking because we have been able to be with them since they were like 6-weeks-old.”

The early childhood effort allows new and expecting parents to stay on track to graduate and stay close to their child. Through what’s called the Graduation, Reality and Dual-role Skills (GRADS) Program, teens are also taught parenting skills and given help in signing up for medical coverage and other needs, such as food and housing assistance. This is taught alongside their traditional instruction that will help them graduate. Eight students are taking part in the GRADS Program, including some who returned after pausing school to give birth.

Everybody knows all the babies in the child care center. And so we talk about them as if they're our own students. And so like, we're all celebrating in math class that this little baby is walking because we have been able to be with them since they were like 6-weeks-old.

– Lorryn Guerrero

The program brings in guest speakers from the community to work with students and gives outside agencies an opportunity to work with the babies.

Day One TOTS, an early intervention nonprofit that provides services to kids who have or are at risk for developmental delays, comes in to see the needs of the children.

“That way they are not delayed in any way through learning,” Guerrero said. “They just work with them to make sure they’re reaching their milestones for the 2 months, for the 4 months, for the 8 months.”

Students without children are given the option to work in the daycare as an elective. They are under the guidance of licensed caregivers and taught how to work in an early childhood environment. Guerrero said this gives students an idea if they’d like to work with the young age group.

“That’s what I like is that the students also have the support of their classmates,” Guerrero said.

Those with interest pursuing a job in early childhood education will be given guidance on how to make that happen through the elective. 

This can assist the need for early childhood educators, as New Mexico is incentivizing parents to send their kids to preschool. A well-trained and well-paid workforce is necessary for the enrollment increase. 

And students could benefit from a training program just launched by the state’s Early Childhood Education and Care Department. The program starts people off with a 45-hour entry-level course that would qualify them to be a preschool teacher and form a pathway to a master’s degree in the field.

New Mexico has seen a drastic dip in teen birth rates over the last decade and half. Since 2007, the teen birth rates dropped 61%, according to the state’s Department of Health. However, the state still has some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and births in the nation. 

Data just released by the New Mexico Human Services Department show 23.8% of new mothers in 2020 are teenagers, well above the 15.3% national average, according to early info from the CDC. 

Doña Ana County is right in line with the state’s total rate, reporting 23.9% of babies born there have teen parents.

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Most recently he covered Indigenous affairs with New Mexico In Depth. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.