Home Education National Guard deployed at Hobbs schools to substitute teach

National Guard deployed at Hobbs schools to substitute teach

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Gabrielle Arsiaga/News-Sun

When it comes to answering a call for service, National Guard Specialist Cassandra Sierra and Sergeant 1st Class Clarence Galassini are all about doing their part —whether that be in a classroom or out on the battlefield.

As a way to help alleviate some of the staff shortages New Mexico schools have been experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grishman deployed the National Guard troops last Wednesday to serve as substitute teachers in preschools and K-12 public schools.

This move makes New Mexico the first state in the nation to use National Guard troops as substitute teachers, and an about face to the tactics Lujan Grisham used when the pandemic began. At that time, in 2020, Lujan Grisham shut down schools and would not let classes meet in person, despite the numbers of infections then and now being relatively equal.

According to Hobbs High School Principal Alfredo Turrubiates, on any given day, the number of absences of teachers varies and by the Guard being present, it helps to alleviate some of the stress some teachers are feeling.

“Today, I had 16 staff members out. What I admire about my staff, as short-handed as we are, every single one of them stepped up. Some of them have given up their prep periods to cover classes. Everyone, whether it’s a security guard, or any staff member we have available, they’re being used,” Turrubiates said.

New Mexico has been struggling for years to recruit and retain educators, leaving long-term subs to do the jobs that full-time, credentialed teachers have.

“Because all of these quarantines and COVID-19, it has had a huge impact on our classroom coverage,” Turrubiates said. “We are very limited on subs so this will be a great opportunity to have subs in place to be able to cover for some of our teachers and some of our vacant positions that weren’t able to be filled in the first place.”

Other states such as Oklahoma and Massachusetts have mobilized the National Guard to drive school busses and administer tests, but New Mexico is the first state to report recruiting troops, with no teaching credentials required, into the classroom.

Members of the Guard, such as Galassini and Sierra serve on active duty, as volunteers, who can qualify with as little as two hours of training and passing a two-step background check.

According to Galassini, the duo is on 30 active orders right now, but at any given moment, those orders could change – whether that be an extension or a cut-off.

Galassini and Sierra, both Roswell natives, each have their own specialty areas which are being put to use in the classrooms.

Galassini, who has a background in collision repair and works as the southeast maintenance supervisor for the New Mexico National Guard, was placed in the AG room at the high school for a week. That area handles welding, agriculture, and anything related to “shop” work.

“Being here in the AG program is kind of nice because I am getting to help out and getting back to my roots from back in high school. It’s nice to have a technical degree where it’s not just necessarily a just teaching or a Bachelors’s degree. Some of these kids, in my opinion, may not want to go to the business side, they may want to do more hands-on work, HVAC or plumbing. I have a lot of experience in hands-on work so if any of these kids want any answers to any technical degrees or the trade schools, I can help them out,” Galassini said.

Sierra works for Youth Challenge Academy in Roswell, which is a quasi-military school. This academy, according to Sierra, works with at-risk youth to help them graduate high school. She was placed in the keyboarding room of the high school, also for a week.

“I understand the struggles of working with youth and not having the help,” Sierra said. “Kids are the future and I believe they deserve every possibility even if that means us coming in and just watching them so that they can complete their credits. It’s a good opportunity too because as guardsmen we should be serving the community and we should be doing our due diligence to help out.”

Sierra and Galassini will work in each of their classrooms for approximately a week or until they are given “new orders” as to what area of the school they are to move on to next.

“To my understanding, these are the only two soldiers that were given to the district as of now. Because of our large number of staff that are typically out on a daily basis, they’re pretty much going to be directed to come here every single day. They work with the 920th Engineer Company and so they’re also trying to recruit within their own soldiers to come out,” Turrubiates said.

“I appreciate the opportunity to have these soldiers come out – they’re a part of our community. I spoke with the soldiers this morning and told them, “Just your presence, being in uniform, kids admire and respect that. So be prepared to answer some questions that they are going to be asking you. Not necessarily your situation, but maybe a pathway for them beyond high school.”

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