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Program's first class makes graduation a family affair

Graduation will be a busy time for the Sanchez family of Las Cruces, with three of its members graduating from New Mexico State University on May 7.

Patrick and Mary Sanchez, along with their daughter, Erin (not pictured), will be graduating from New Mexico State University together on May 7. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

and wife Patrick and Mary Sanchez will graduate with honors, with master's degrees in educational administration as part of the first class from the federally funded project Leadership in Border Rural Areas (LIBRA) and Preparing Leaders Together (PLT). The pair will join their daughter, Erin, who will be graduating with her bachelor's in elementary education.

"Education has always been a big part of this family," Mary said. She said all but one of her husband's brothers and sisters are school administrators. Erin is the oldest of four children.

"Everyone in my family is an educator," Erin said. "When I came to college, I tried a couple of majors to see what was out there. I finally told myself that I needed to become an educator, too."

Patrick and Mary decided to enroll in the PLT/LIBRA program after taking a few credit hours toward their degrees. Mary said she liked what the program had to offer and thought it would be the best way to earn a degree.

"Because of this particular program, we were able to receive our degrees," Mary said. "I don't think it would have happened otherwise."

Not only does the Sanchez family juggle classes in the evening and on weekends, Mary teaches full-time at Picacho Middle School and Patrick teaches full-time at Lynn Middle School. In addition, each has had to complete internships at other schools within Las Cruces participating in administrative duties, as the program requires. Erin is completing her student teaching at Holaway Elementary School in Tuscon, Ariz.

Patrick Sanchez said attending school with his wife and daughter was a great experience.

"My experience was a positive one," Patrick said. "I don't think I would have been able to understand the stress levels associated with going to school had I not been attending as well."

Patrick also said he and his wife have worked together before and know how to deal with those stress levels.

"It was amazing to share this experience with my wife," Patrick said. "We have always been close. I have learned when to back off and when to give encouragement."

Erin said if she had not been in school at the same time as her parents, she wouldn't have realized what it meant to them.

"I didn't realize the passion they have for education," Erin said. "I see the love they have for the community and how much this means to them. They are truly inspiring."

The program the Sanchezes attended focuses on preparing educational leaders to address the needs of students along the U.S.-Mexico border by addressing issues of poverty, culture and linguistic diversity. Elsy Fierro, director of the LIBRA, and Chris Milyard, director for the PLT project, said this was a unique experience for the 34 graduates of the program.

"The program is unique in that it focuses on border issues and teaches these participants how to create a nurturing environment in their schools for those students living in poverty and in different situations," Fierro said.

Fierro said 14 of the programs' participants have already been given administrator positions with the Las Cruces Public Schools. The others are being recruited by school districts in Dallas and Albuquerque schools because of the training they received.

"I think the key to success with students lies with the focus being on how to bring the students' families and members of the community into the school," Mary said. "This program is a great way to aid in closing the achievement gap in border schools."

The program has another husband and wife team, Steve Tognoni and Linda Corona, and a father/daughter team, Eulalio and Gloria Mendoza, who also will be earning their master's degrees in educational administration at this year's commencement ceremonies.

"I think the family ties make this experience special for these students," Fierro said. "The content challenges their current views and they begin to see themselves beyond a family relationship. They become colleagues and grow in their learning and their relationships with each other."