The American Jobs Act: Creating Space to Grow and Learn

Albuquerque, N.M.’s Dolores Gonzales Elementary, although cleaned beautifully by a hard working custodial staff, is in need of a great deal of infrastructure improvement.

The wiring won’t support the technology, the bathroom facilities are insufficient and lack a lift for students in wheelchairs, and the 12 modular units are over 20 years old.

Walking through Gonzales Elementary with Principal Lori Stuit and Acting Assistant Secretary Michael Yudin prior to a Community Conversation on October 25, I could see that roofs leak, there is limited playground space, and students are packed into classrooms to accommodate the 452 students who attend.

As Principal Stuit spoke passionately about the 99% of her students who qualify for free and reduced lunch, I couldn’t help thinking that this school is exactly the reason we need the American Jobs Act to pass.

“Knowing where my students come from, they deserve the BEST school, the BEST teachers, the BEST resources, and to know that they are loved and cared for,” Stuit explained. “We need to have a school that students are proud of and shows that people value them.”

Acting Assistant Secretary Michael Yudin tours Dolores Gonzales Elementary

Funding is the problem, of course, which is why Secretary Duncan supports passage of the President’s American Jobs Act, which calls for $60 billion to be pumped into schools to keep essential teachers and also to turn around dilapidated school structures like this one.

“We know how studies have shown that natural light affects student achievement,” Stuit continued as she showed off the school’s highly recognized dual language program. “(Yet) how do we expect kids to learn in an environment where there is almost no natural light to be found?” Indeed, as we walked the halls of this school, the only natural light to be found was the murals beautifully painted on the walls.

It was truly a pleasure to spend time inside Dolores Gonzales Elementary and see the children smiling, but also desperately needing a high quality place to learn. Stuit was right about that too.  These kids deserve only “the best.”

Sharla Steever

Sharla Steever is a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow in Hill City, SD.