Lori Martinez and Lynda Garcia, For the Sun-News Published 2:01 p.m. MT Oct. 28, 2017

LAS CRUCES – We constantly hear about the dismal childhood outcomes in our state and our region. As a community, we’ve grown accustomed to hearing about how our children are not thriving, that change is hard, and that New Mexico remains on the bottom of too many bad lists.

Hope can feel hard to come by. However, in Dona Ana County (DAC), we have the SUCCESS Partnership, an education initiative that is a key strategy to doing education differently.

The SUCCESS Partnership was formed in 2014 to improve educational outcomes, amidst the child-poverty stricken circumstances in DAC. The partnership is a prenatal to career education initiative. Every day, our children feel the brunt of a stark reality. There are approximately 15,000 children under the age of 5 in DAC, and 45% of these children live below the federal poverty line. In this group, only 35% of children receive formal early childhood education. The role of the SUCCESS Partnership is to explore solutions on how to create strong, long-lasting connections amongst educational programs and health-care programs that work to care for the whole child and their well-being.

The partnership has created community dialogue through targeted community gatherings that have led to synergy surrounding strategies to improve child well-being. We are examining root causes and innovative solutions together. Our partnership consists of cross-sector organizations, community leaders, parents, and teachers. We embrace the motto, “Education is a shared responsibility.” Each community member plays a role in improving the lives of children in DAC. The nonprofit organization, Ngage New Mexico, provides support for the partnership by facilitating partner meetings.

Over the past three years, the partnership has established deep relationships with several key organizations, which include: New Mexico State University (NMSU), La Clinica de Familia (LCDF), and the United Way of Southwest New Mexico. The partnership with NMSU has resulted in the creation of the Center for Community Analysis, which provides extensive data research and analysis specific to education in DAC. LCDF is a key partner and provides a countywide coordinator for early childhood education. United Way provides a communications coordinator who works to keep partners informed of each other’s efforts and informs the general public of partnership activities.

Twenty-five institutional partners and over 150 individuals have committed to the SUCCESS Partnership. Thirty-five of the individual partners are prominent community members who have agreed to serve on the Leaders Circle. This is a group that uses their influence to help further the goals of the partnership by helping to open doors and break down barriers. The Leaders Circle includes the Provost of NMSU, the President of Dona Ana Community College (DACC), the College of Education Dean, Chambers of Commerce Executive Directors, Head Start Directors, Department of Health Program Managers, local school district Superintendents, and Executive Directors of local nonprofit organizations.

The partnership is leveraging existing early childhood education resources and relationships in a way that has never happened before in DAC, and possibly, anywhere in NM. For example, the partners in early childhood education have developed a grassroots early childhood education plan for the county and brought together early childhood leaders and agencies to be more effective.

A key feature of the SUCCESS Partnership is that we’ve approached change in education through the lens of looking at what we have, as opposed to what we lack. Our community possesses strengths that have lied dormant for far too long. This is the heart of collective impact, the method we use to pursue change. When we look at the strengths we already have and how we can work together to best leverage those strengths, then hope flickers, new possibilities arise, and the community begins to see a better future.

SUCCESS Snapshots is a biweekly column highlighting the prenatal to career SUCCESS Partnership education initiative in Doña Ana County. Read more at www.SUCCESSdac.org. If you would like to be involved, please contact Lynda Garcia at Lynda.Garcia@uwswnm.org.