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Jessi
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Excerpt from the 2016 HEP Policy Strategy Summary

Michelle Valverde, Diane Torres-Velasquez and Vanessa Urbina with the SUN (Somos Unidos para Los Niños) Project, shared about their efforts with the SUN Project at the Statewide Health Equity Gathering. The overarching goal of the SUN Project is to create a public education framework in New Mexico that is responsive to culturally diverse learners across the state. The hope is that the framework will inform the development of a long-range plan for education in New Mexico that will guide the trajectory of existing and future preK-12 education policies. All subsequent education policies and practices would be aligned with the cultural values and languages of our communities. Ultimately, students would thrive and there would be improvements in health and well-being. Michelle and Diane provided an update on their efforts at the Action-Oriented Small Group Gathering. In an effort to build many things simultaneously, Diane also spoke to separate but overlapping efforts to create a statewide initiative around ethnic studies so we can articulate and honor our own histories and cultures. At the gathering, participants also engaged in what began as a traditional power mapping exercise on education. What emerged was an informative dialogue about our interdependence and the need to build consensus, harmony and balance in our efforts rather than further divides.

Through discussions at the statewide gathering, participants identified a need to ensure students and families are reflected in their education; teachers and school leaders are supported; community voices are heard when decisions are made; the curriculum reflects our cultures, identities, and languages; and we have opportunities for experiential learning. Participants also would like to end the school to prison pipeline. This refers to the increasing contact students have with the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems as a result of racial bias, school discipline policies, and the use of police in schools which have a disproportionate impact on students of color. Participants recommended transforming education utilizing a holistic model that is multi-cultural and multi-lingual with a focus on child and family wellness. This model would focus on human relationships, fully embrace and lift-up ethnic studies, and connect healthy food to our school tables, to name a few. We recognize that in order for this to transformation to take place, we need more decision making and flexibility at the community level. Additionally, through our interactions and learnings at the small group gathering, we re-emphasized that in education, we need to harness our biggest asset in New Mexico – our diversity.