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Border Walking Conference focuses on assessment of diverse learners

New Mexico State University's College of Education will host the MECA Therapies Border Walking Conference focusing on assessment of diverse learners Feb. 1-2 at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum.

The conference is being funded through a gift from Jeff Flores and his wife, Roberta Martinez-Flores, owners and directors of MECA Therapies and both graduates of the NMSU College of Education.

"I remember the Border Walking Conference making an impact on me while I was a graduate student at NMSU," said Jeff Flores. "The conference brought together a whole community of professionals and students to look at important educational issues. I wanted to see this conference continue for the benefit of the community and the professional development of educators."

The College of Education first hosted a series of Border Walking Conferences in the mid-1990s to focus on educational issues related to the needs of diverse children, youth and their families in the border community.

Herman Garcia, a Regents Professor in curriculum and instruction who assisted in the coordination of the first conferences, said the name "Border Walking" was selected through a contest and signified many borders including the geographic border of this region, but also the border between general and special education students and the border between those who are native English speakers and those learning it as their second language. Topics usually included educational and social practices that affect students who are English language learners and students with disabilities.

This year's conference will continue that trend and includes presentations from keynote speakers Leonard Baca, an expert in bilingual special education from the University of Colorado-Boulder; Hector Ochoa, a bilingual assessment expert from the University of Texas-Pan American; and Hart Kayser, a bilingual speech and communications disorders expert from St. Louis University and a former NMSU faculty member.

"This conference will provide immense opportunities for students, educators and health care providers to be informed on new research and the challenges students are facing in the classroom," Flores said.

A highlight of the conference will be a panel discussion in the afternoon on Friday, Feb. 2. Baca and Ochoa will join Beverly Calvo, from the University of Texas-El Paso; Richard Rodriguez, from Western New Mexico University; and Peter Winograd, from the New Mexico Public Education Department, for a discussion of the challenges of the No Child Left Behind Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act mandates as they relate to the evaluation of diverse learners.

"We need to discuss the challenges faced by schools not meeting their yearly progress requirements and how we can make positive change to assist students in making academic gains," said Eric Lopez, an associate professor in the special education and communications disorders department and holder of the College of Education's Stan Fulton Chair for the Improvement of Border and Rural Schools.

The Floreses are working toward establishing an endowment that would fund a Border Walking Conference every year.

"The graduate program and our mentors at NMSU opened up many opportunities that moved us toward opening our company. We are committed to donating $10,000 a year to see this conference continue," Flores said.

MECA Therapies is a statewide rehabilitation company that provides therapy services to individuals of all ages.

For more information on the conference, call Michelle Saenz at (505) 646-1348.