Rachel Faith Joyce, health care worker
Growing up, my kindergarten teacher showed me the power of connection, and my second grade teacher taught me it’s OK to make mistakes. My high school English teacher taught me to speak truth to power, and my college biology teacher showed me how all life depends on other life. I learned all this in person, and I couldn’t have learned it from machines — or worse, in front of a laptop.
A year ago, our children left school for spring break and never returned. A week turned into a month, into a quarter, into a year. Classrooms gathered dust, and playgrounds lay fallow. The voices of our young faded to the farthest shelf of our collective attic, safe from connection or contagion.
I am a full-time health care worker and single parent with three kids in Santa Fe’s charter schools. Balancing everything during the pandemic has felt like juggling electric eels while running a marathon on a tightrope over a shark-infested lava pit. As important as child care is for many adults, I’d rather have school. For our little ones, education is about connection and relationship, and that can’t be delivered remotely.
I loved the movie Office Space, which featured disgruntled grown-ups finally finding the courage to put their needs first, in part by taking an oppressive printer out to a field and destroying it. I used to intervene when my kiddo’s laptop was in similar peril, until one day I realized I want to destroy it, too. Asking kids from prekindergarten through the first grade to learn this way was — and is — completely bonkers.
Imagine my joy when Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart promised a return next month to in-person learning. I’m thrilled we are headed in this direction and that this change is predicated on making sure educators can get vaccinated.
These are incredibly hard times to lead in and teach in, and so it is with respect that I say to our leadership and educators: Our kids need more — thank you for working on it.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham
In reflecting on the past year, thinking back to where we were last March and all that has happened since, more than anything else I am genuinely and incredibly proud of New Mexicans.
As I said in my State of the State address, we are processing the strains of grief, challenged by anxiety about the future, exhausted after months of uncertainty and upheaval. But we have — all of us, in our own individual way — fought for one another, stepped up to protect one another, made sacrifices for people we may never meet but whose health and safety we can take comfort in knowing we helped preserve. We should all make the time to reflect on this.
The manifest strength of New Mexicans — the health care heroes, the front-line workers, the first responders, the parents and educators and so many more — is a powerful source of optimism, especially as the end of the pandemic begins to take shape ahead of us.
Having weathered the storm, we will take stock of our surroundings, understand we are stronger for having been through it and begin again in earnest the focused work of transforming our state for the benefit of all families and workers.
As Abraham Lincoln wrote in the middle of the Civil War, “The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion.” Amid unprecedented challenges, he wrote, “we must think anew, and act anew,” taking up with our whole hearts the opportunity to be ambitious and remake ourselves afforded us by the circumstances.
New Mexico has risen to one occasion — squaring up a global pandemic, protecting and preserving our own to the very best of our ability — and will rise to the next. I am humbled and more honored than ever to lead our state.
Dr. David Scrase, Human Services secretary
There are very few ways that the pandemic has not affected my life, but there are three that loom large in the ways that is has.
First, it has been such an honor and privilege to work for a governor who is evidence based and science oriented, to the point of requiring the development of some of the nation’s best COVID-19 data systems here in New Mexico. The more questions she asks, the better data we gather, which allows us to make better decisions, which then results in even more questions. I feel that every step I have ever taken in my career has informed my ability to support the COVID-19 effort in our state; at the same time, I have never felt more challenged. Thank you for that, governor.
Second, as the secretary of the Human Services Department, I have witnessed the horrible scourge that COVID-19 has been to the over 1 million New Mexicans we serve. With case rates 4 to 10 times higher in low-income populations, and hospitalization and death rates 2.5 to 3 times higher for those infected, I have come to better understand the fragility of our neighbors under economic duress. This has caused me to intensify our team’s efforts within HSD to provide even more care and support to a huge segment of our state that is bearing a greater burden of the pandemic than I thought possible.
Third, and most importantly, I have really come to enjoy the monastic existence that the pandemic has imposed on our family. Last February, we were busy from well before dawn to well after dusk; worked very hard at our jobs; and had weekends packed tightly with activities, with little time left to talk and relate. Now, we have dinner together pretty much every night, my wife and I have time to exercise together each morning at 5:15, and we have really enjoyed our evenings and weekends together as well. Of all of the effects of the pandemic, this is the one we most hope to keep in place when things get back to the new normal, whatever that will be.
Emma Meyers, Santa Fe Prep student
I don’t think I noticed teenagers being overlooked in COVID-19 media coverage. If I did, it was not anything out of the ordinary, so I moved past it.
This was aided by the fact that I get most of my news from young people, and it’s centric to us. The first article not written by teens that I saw about how the nation’s teenagers are handling the pandemic was in October, in the New York Times. It was about the video game Among Us, which had just spiked in popularity.
It’s weird to say this, but the worst person I’m quarantined with is me.
To greatly exaggerate the words of my therapist, “a global pandemic is the ideal situation that a recovering anorexic can be in.” I was missing from school quite a bit when we first transitioned, which seemed like it would play in my favor since I was already labeled the “sick friend.” With online learning, I would have support at home whenever I needed it, enough time for treatment and ample help getting through meals.
It’s a different kind of terrible to be less sick, but alone, surrounded by weight-loss challenges and all my friends who have forgotten how to communicate. I never knew.
I do feel like I’m devolving intellectually. My grades, while better than they were last year (I was very sick), are far worse than they were in middle school. Also, a draft of this piece used emojis because I couldn’t think of the right words.
But this is the COVID-19 world we live in — where emojis sometimes speak louder than words.
JoAnne Vigil Coppler, Santa Fe city councilor
It’s hard to imagine all that has happened, looking back on the past year — sort of like a nightmare from which you’re sure you’ll wake. Apparently, no such luck.
I feel such compassion and heartache for all those who have lost their livelihood, their businesses and beloved family members and friends. There are people who haven’t been able to visit, hug or even bury a family member in a traditional manner. I can’t imagine the agony.
Other great losses are memories students will never have. Their hard work in school would have been recognized in graduation lines accepting a degree or diploma while shaking hands with someone important and then proceeding to send their graduation cap straight up into the air with glee.
There’s the athlete waiting to show the prowess he/she has worked so hard to achieve by playing the best game, running the fastest or kicking a field goal only to learn that wasn’t going to happen in their senior year. Loss of sporting events was not only difficult for athletes but for family and fans — not to mention lost revenue for the educational institutions.
Regarding my own experiences, I have also felt the limits set by the COVID-19 wrath and know people who are suffering from its effects. I haven’t hugged anyone in some time. I haven’t been out with friends enjoying the camaraderie we so cherish. Stepping foot in The Pit, my home away from home, for basketball games seems like only a fond memory.
Santa Feans are resilient, though. I’m so proud of us. We don’t give up. We keep going, knowing that one day soon this year, we will wake from this trance and give it all we’ve got for our souls to be nurtured with new meaning we never thought possible.
Veronica García, Santa Fe Public Schools superintendent
It’s said that life in the superintendency is like dog years, and this past year has confirmed it.
In February 2020, we began planning to run district operations remotely. We worked feverishly during spring break to ensure students were fed and that we could accelerate a quality remote-learning program. And we did, becoming one of the first school districts to do so.
During the summer, as part of a continuous improvement process, we took input and lessons learned to reboot, reimagine and reinvent our program. Ours was a herculean effort to keep everyone safe and get buildings up to new standards, but we were ready to open in August. Still, even in late fall, the remote-learning program was adjusted.
Running schools is a big job in normal times. During this extraordinary pandemic, the workload, too, has been extraordinary. Like no other time, we’ve had to be extremely flexible and learn to pivot on a moment’s notice given changing guidance and requirements for schools because of conditions and the evolving virus.
Communicating with our stakeholders has become particularly challenging, which I’m sure has been frustrating. Directions often changed within days. This was exasperating for me, too, as this is not my style of communication.
Personally, I’ve missed the in-person interactions with students, staff and community partners. I’m a people person, so this has been very hard on me. I’m also a big family person, and not being with my family has been the hardest.