The remote town of Crownpoint, where our affiliated project Mariano Lake Community School is located, is in northwestern New Mexico, near the Arizona border and the vast Navajo Nation. Many of the American Indian families in this area generate income by making and selling jewelry, kachinas (traditional, carved figures that represent deified ancestral spirits), and pottery. Some families maintain small herds of livestock. Others, who can’t find work this region of the United States, where unemployment is high, find themselves having to travel outside of the state for work.
Some parents rely on public assistance for feeding and clothing their children. For this reason, the Mariano Lake Community School is important for the kids who attend, because there, they can receive a good education and have a healthy environment in which to reside during the week - and their experiences there are enriched by compassionate teachers who work hard to build their self-esteem.
The value of dorm life
Mariano Lake Community School is a small boarding school of approximately 150 students ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade. The school consists of small portable buildings, which house the classrooms. The complex also has a cafeteria, a library, administrative offices, and a separate dorm for boys and girls.
The dorm on the school’s campus serves many important purposes for both the students and their parents. Although school buses do travel the hour or more to the communities in which the children’s families live, the many dirt roads along the way often become impassable during and after rain and snow. If the buses can’t make it down a road, the children down that road are not picked up, so they miss school that day.
The dorm is also quite valuable for parents who work out of town during the week, because they don’t have to worry about their children’s safety. For some parents, the relief comes from knowing that their children will eat enough at school during the week, when they might otherwise go hungry at home, because there is not enough money to feed them.
Parents of our sponsored and unsponsored children at Mariano Lake Community School are often bus drivers, cooks, or security officers that make very small incomes. When they do receive their paychecks at the beginning of each month, students are sometimes absent from school, because there is food to eat at home, and money to pay for things to do - so they don’t make the trip to school. By the end of the month, however, the students are going hungry again.
Those who live at the dorm receive three meals a day. On the weekends, when they return home, they often go hungry, or they just eat junk food or snack food when money gets low or runs out. Once the weekend is over, these kids arrive to school on Monday mornings very hungry for breakfast. By Monday night, they are exhausted and fall asleep early, because they haven’t had a chance to get their energy back up from eating so little for days in a row.
Feeling unloved and unwanted
On a recent trip to New Mexico, U.S. Projects Specialist Shelley Oxenham met with Barbara, our Volunteer Coordinator at Mariano Lake Community School, who also manages the dorm. Barbara told Shelley that teachers and staff are seeing more and more students coming from difficult home situations. There is alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and drug use at home.
Children sometimes feel unwanted and unloved, which results in negative behavior both at home and at school. The kids sometimes talk back and swear at their parents and teachers in frustration. Unfortunately, because of these behavioral issues, another reason that some parents want their children to be in the dorm during the week is so they don’t have to deal with them - which only makes their situations at home even worse.
Barbara explained to Shelley that even though the children’s behavior can be disruptive, she does what ever she can to help them to have a better life. She says that the Children Incorporated sponsorship program is especially important because not only do the sponsored children really a need the clothes, school supplies, and hygiene items they receive, but they also need encouragement and support from a caring adult, too. Barbara hopes that writing to and receiving letters from sponsors help the students know that someone really cares about them.