Broadmoor Elementary is a microcosm of Hobbs population growth in the past decade.
When enrollment dipped to less than200 students 14 years ago, administrators considered closing the school, which- at the time - was located in a neighborhood made up of many retirees. As that population relocated, however, couples with young families bought the suddenly affordable housing in a market that suddenly found itself on the upswing. These days, many of those families are hosting out-of-town relatives attracted to town by industry and job growth. School officials estimate that up to half of Broadmoor’s students live with multiple family members.
In response, Broadmoor this year added a new class of kindergartners and fourth graders. In the meantime, three other classes continue to be instructed in portable buildings. Still, the 350-studentenrollment - thanks to sixth-graders who moved to middle school - is down by more than 50 kids from last year.
“This school wasn’t built for 400students,” Broadmoor Principal Lisa Robinson said. “Last year I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water. This year I feel like I can breathe.”
That’s the feeling districtwide as 11 elementary schools let out a notch on their building belt with the exodus of sixth-graders. Still, the number of 5-year-olds who began kindergarten in August was the highest in district history – 834 compared to 520 10 years ago.And last year’s kindergartners have mutated into this year’s 829 first-graders,another record number.
In response, HMS hired 35instructional assistants (IAs) to staff kindergarten classrooms along with certified teachers. The additional positions – as well as handful of new teachers and IAs for both the kindergarten and first grade level – will cost the district just over $1 million in the coming year.
But HMS Supt. TJ Parks said no cost is too great to ensure the proper education of the city’s youngest students. “That has to be a top priority,” Parks said.
Mary Ann Brown, a Broadmoor kindergarten teacher, agrees. “This grade level is pretty much like herding chickens,” she joked while sitting in her classroom one day after school last week. “They need a lot of attention because they are so little and because they are often coming straight from home where they had a one-on-one situation with their mom. The first five to six weeks of school are critical.”
Brown this year is paired with student teacher Eva Astorga. Together they are responsible for teaching 21 5-year-olds how to read, write and most importantly, get off to the right start in school.
Now entering her 41st year of teaching, Brown said kindergarten did not exist when she began her career as a first-grade teacher at Jefferson. When the grade was added to Hobbs elementary schools in 1977, students only attended for a half-day.
After a decade of legislative debate, full-time kindergarten came to New Mexico in 2001, a demanding transition for Brown who said in those days, she sometimes managed classes of up to 20 students without an instructional aide. “When you get to that number of kids, you are missing out on someone’s needs,” she said.
Recognizing the same thing, the state education department soon mandated a teacher-student ratio for optimum learning. In kindergarten, the number is 14 students per teacher, but funding shortfalls in the past have sometimes meant schools couldn’t meet state guidelines. Not so this year in Hobbs, thanks to a bump in funding due to the increase in students across all grades.
Manageable class sizes are important not only at the grade level, but also at the building level, Robinson said. “That way you have the ability to get to know your students,” the principal said. “If a kid is having a situation going on at home or is in some kind of distress, you need to be able to recognize the signs.”
At the primary level, smaller classes mean that kindergarten students, who sometimes are unable to even hold a pencil by themselves, receive the one-on-one attention and vigilance they need.
“My primary purpose is to protect them while they are here,” Brown said. “They have to like school and they have to feel safe. They have to feel like they can make a mistake and it’s okay.” A curriculum leader for the district, Brown said that philosophy carries through to all elementary schools.
“It’s our job to make sure our students love going to school,” she added. “Once we meet their basic needs, then we get on with the business of teaching them how to read and write and preparing them for the next grade level.”