New Mexico program trains young parents for early childhood careers

·4 min read

Jul. 3—Before she gave birth to the first of her three children 12 years ago, Reeve Mora wanted to be a teacher.

"I always say I'm the crazy lady who's been blessed enough to stay home with her children for the most part," Mora, 33 of Albuquerque, said in a recent interview as her 3-year-old daughter chatted in the background. "Along the way, I've also learned I want to be in early childhood somehow."

She hopes her participation in a recent pilot internship through the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department has prepared her for her next goal: pursuing a degree in family studies.

Mora's dream is to work with other families trying to navigate the state's early childhood system as they seek child care or preschool services. She's already doing some of that work as a member of the policy council for family services organization Youth Development Inc.

Through the early childhood agency's X3 Parent Internship, designed by New Mexico education nonprofit Future Focused Education, she and other young parents throughout the state spent 10 weeks receiving mostly virtual training from people in early childhood careers, with a goal of becoming certified facilitators of a parenting curriculum. The program covered topics such as nutrition and literacy, as well as developmental delays and disabilities. Parents with infants and toddlers who show signs of delays can qualify for free early intervention services to promote child development.

Most members of the group were mothers, one just 14, who use services such as a home visiting program for parents with new babies. Ten of the participants completed the program and earned three monthly stipends of $275 each through a total $86,510 state investment in the program.

The curriculum was created by national nonprofit Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors.

"There's a popular saying in the field: There're no instructions on how to raise a child," said Mayra Gutierrez, director of family support and early intervention for the Early Childhood Education and Care Department. "This curriculum, Abriendo Puertas, is directly focused on Latino parents and really focused on values, on your background, how you were raised."

Gutierrez said the internship is one of several initiatives the state is using to draw new professionals into careers as retirements increase and the industry recovers from coronavirus pandemic-era shutdowns. The state also is providing scholarships for students in early childhood programs and working to increase pay for workers.

"Facilitator is a special skill," Gutierrez said. "So, we're building capacity."

Early childhood careers can be ideal for parents with young children, who can work in settings like day care centers and preschools where their children might be enrolled.

Amarisa Barboa, 22, who participated in a previous internship for parents and was a coach for the recent X3 program (for explore, experience and expand), said a group setting for young parents also can cut down on some of the isolation many are facing during the pandemic.

"We're still in kind of in an isolated time," she said. "To be able to find support from other parents is what felt important to them."

Barboa, who lives with her partner and 19-month-old daughter in Rio Rancho, said she is also the daughter of a young parent.

"I have a taste of both sides," she said.

Her daughter, Ofelia Gurulé, was 6 months old when Barboa participated in an internship through Future Focused Education and helped plan a town hall for other young parents. She dropped out of a community college program in public health when she learned she was pregnant.

"It was my first introduction to a job since having my daughter," she said of the internship. "I just really appreciated being in the space of other parents who were able to give me advice."

Adrián Pedroza, executive director of Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors, said guidance from a parenting curriculum can help reduce household stress.

"Navigating your own personal needs as a young parent takes a lot of support," Pedroza said.

The state internship was the third Future Focused Education has designed for young parents since 2020.

Ali Moore, the nonprofit's director of student support — and a mom — said the virtual group format allows young parents to get career experience in place of more traditional internships that can leave them excluded due to barriers like transportation and child care.

"Workplace environments can be incredibly intimidating," she said. "It seemed especially true for our young parents."

Moore is hoping the pilot internship will help simmer down stigmas that younger parents face when it comes to building a career.

"When we think about, really, parenthood, there's such a negative stigma associated with people's idea of what those young parents' potential now will be," she said. "I see that because they are parents, they would become more successful."

Mora said her favorite part of the internship was that children were welcome to be in the background of virtual meetings: crying, banging pots and pans, running around. It was part of the working experience, not counter to it.

"We were all moms; we knew how to ignore it," she said. "It was kind of normalized for once, which it isn't always."