LAS CRUCES — Hatch Valley Public Schools has received $300,000 from the WK Kellogg Foundation to help with big plans the district has for the community.
HVPS Superintendent Michael Chavez said the district is working to establish the Building Experiences through Agricultural Resources (BEAR) initiative, which is a series of projects aimed at improving the district and the surrounding village of Hatch.
“The scope of what we’re trying to accomplish is huge,” Chavez said.
HVPS is planning several major undertakings to serve this overarching goal of improving the village, including hiring a bilingual community engagement specialist, planting a vertical garden, and creating an animal science and education center. a veterinary clinic.
Chavez said he has been in contact with the WK Kellogg Foundation for three years. In February, the foundation reached out to talk about some of HVPS’s future plans and offered them the grant.
“(The foundation representative) was really excited about what she heard and what we were trying to do, because it’s not only benefiting the district for our kids, but also the community,” Chavez said.
A project that impacts the whole community
Each element of this larger project is driven by a need in the Hatch community.
“I believe so strongly that the school district should support the community and vice versa,” Chavez said. “We expect the community to support the district, but, you know, sometimes we don’t think of the district supporting the community. So it’s really a partnership between – and a bridge between – the schools and the community.
The construction of an animal science center aims to provide veterinary care and teach students how to work with animals with the eventual goal of them becoming full-fledged veterinarians again. Normally, residents must go to Las Cruces, Truth or Consequences, or Deming to find a veterinarian.
Students from 4-H and Future Farmers of America would participate in the animal learning lab.
The establishment of a vertical garden aims to try a new agricultural method that could provide fresh salads to the cafeteria and reduce water consumption. Chavez explained that farmers in the region depend on the Rio Grande, but with droughts, farmers have had to rely on water from wells to irrigate their crops. If the vertical garden conserves up to 90% of the water, as promised, this could be a solution for the community.
He is also exploring the possibility of using wastewater to plant alfalfa on an unused field near Hatch Valley Middle that could feed farm animals. One of the biggest obstacles to raising farm animals is the cost of feeding them, according to Chavez.
“Everything we do is from an agriculture perspective,” Chavez said. “Because agriculture in the Hatch Valley – everyone is connected directly or indirectly – is the economic base of this community. So it only made sense when we were talking about really focusing on that relevance in our education and lessons.
The Bilingual Community Engagement Specialist will spend time helping to break down the stereotypes that come with working in agriculture. Chavez said the district hopes to find someone who meets his needs by July, or at least before the school year begins in August.
A permanent mission
Chavez said this project is a big undertaking and will continue for years to come. He described the effort as a “leap of faith”.
Hatch Mayor Slim Whitlock was also an advocate for the district. Chavez said Whitlock contacted American senses Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan, both DN.M.s, to help prepare a federal grant application.
“As we continue to move forward, it’s this networking piece that will help us get there,” Chavez said. “If in the end we are able to be a role model for other school districts, then that would be great.”
Classroom Agriculture and New Mexico State University are also involved.
Chavez hopes all of this funding and partnership will help HVPS students be better prepared for college and into the workforce.
“We’re just trying to tap into different sources of funding so that we can deliver on this vision we have for education,” Chavez said. “The idea that education is more than just sitting in class, opening a textbook. We want our education to come to life. And we want it to be experience-based, we want it to be project-based, which is why it just makes sense that we’re going down this road.
“The more we share our vision with people, the more people we get interested in reaching out and wanting to be part of it.”
Chavez said he wasn’t exactly overwhelmed, but it was a mix of excitement and nervousness for this big project for such a small community.
“(I’m) blessed to be able to work with people who have embraced the vision and can see the possibilities of what we can accomplish in our district,” he said.