There isn’t much that can phase the young teachers at St. Joseph School in Lumberton, NM. At this small school, nestled in the heart of New Mexico’s northern Apache reservations, isolation, dirt roads, and inclement weather are all in a day’s work.
But for Madeline Lyon, principal at St. Francis, shoddy housing is one obstacle she won’t tolerate. Most of the teachers at the school come for a period of several years through placement by Americorps, a national community service program. In years past, their housing at St. Francis consisted of an old building with cracked walls and foundation and unreliable heating. At one point, a colony of bees took over an unused room.
Eventually Lyon gave up her own home to the teachers, and she now commutes daily from Pagosa Springs in Colorado. But the end of this sub-standard housing is in sight. An anonymous donor has pledged enough money to the school to allow for a new housing complex to be built, and the teachers should be able to move in by the end of the school year.
“Our volunteers come from all over the country, and if we can’t house them, we can’t have teachers, and therefore we won’t have a school,” Lyon said. While the profession of teaching is built on the idea of service, Lyon believes that here, in remote New Mexico, the job takes on an extra amount of mission work.
“We serve primarily the native people from the Jicarilla Apache reservation, as we’re the only viable alternative to the public school here,” she said. “So most of our students come from the reservation, so we are serving an under-served population. This is a poverty area – we receive Title I funds from the federal government. We’re also on the Federal breakfast and lunch program.”
When her young teachers are provided with good living conditions, they in turn are able to dedicate themselves to enriching the lives of their students. And when students are happy, parents are happy. Lyon believes there are good reasons why local parents prefer St. Joseph to public schools.
“We create a safe environment. There is no bullying here, so even though they have to pay for it, because we do charge tuition – nominal tuition – even though they have to pay for it and they have to transport their children to and from school, it’s worth it to have high academic standards and a good safe environment.”
Lyon also eventually hopes to invest in new heating systems, beds, and furnishings for the teachers. But for now, the relief of new housing, long-desired, will help to keep St. Francis a worthy and welcome place to live, work and study for years to come.