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(The Center Square) – Community schools throughout New Mexico are coordinating efforts to help students by helping the communities in which they live.

Community schools differ from normal public schools by going beyond the standard education mission, according to Stan Rounds, executive director for the New Mexico Coalition of Educational Leaders and the New Mexico Superintendents Association.

These schools harness the collective power of state agencies and private non-profits to provide services to families of students, and many do it beyond the five days a week schools are usually open, he said.

“It includes mental health services, health services and whatever else we can coordinate in those schools,” Rounds told The Center Square.

Other services he mentioned include dental, vision and services to address child hunger.

Education is more than simply “seat time,” says Rounds. At a typical public school, the only health care students in poverty often have access to is the school nurse, he said.

“The goal is to expand services to children and their families,” Rounds said.

There are a lot of pieces to ensuring child welfare, Rounds pointed out.

“It’s not just the child – it’s the family attached to them also,” he said. “Because to deal with those issues you need the whole tapestry of players, right? You can attack the child’s problem, but if you don’t deal with the parental issues … so it could be GED acquisition for the parent, it could be job placement/training protocols etc., you might integrate with a community college, as an example, on a school site.”

New Mexico is home to a lot of undocumented workers, Rounds points out. Schools equipped to help these individuals navigate life will become more prevalent, he believes.

During the pandemic, many of the issues faced by students and their communities became more apparent, especially mental health problems, according to Rounds.

“Our child and teen suicide rate went up tremendously over the last 18 months,” he said.

Challenges facing the community school movement include personnel shortages. New Mexico is short not only on teachers but social workers, counselors and other interventionists, Rounds said.

Rounds is looking to American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds as an opportunity to meet some needs for community schools, but he notes that would not be a permanent source of funding growth for them.