NMSU Extension programs reach unique audiences around the state

By Jane Moorman

As a land-grant university, known for its outreach programs through the Cooperative Extension Service, NMSU has the federally mandated task of offering community resources that address public needs.

With offices in all 33 New Mexico counties, the Cooperative Extension Service, housed in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, reaches a wide and diverse population through traditional agriculture, family and consumer science as well as youth development programs.

Among those programs, three help unique audiences – high school students facing food insecurity, public schools seeking experiential-based teaching and prisoners in the state penal system. 

Nutrition On Weekends

While teaching nutrition classes at Century High School in Los Lunas, Laura Bittner, NMSU’s family and consumer science agent in Valencia County, learned from the students that food is not always available to them at home.

Since August 2018, dozens of community members through donations or time have made it possible to provide 176 students with a snack pack every weekend full of non-perishable food.

Part of that support comes from the NMSU Foundation’s “Make A STATEment” crowdfunding platform, which helped Bittner raise $12,360 from 91 donors to improve the quantity and quality of the snacks. Members of local churches are also donating food items and packing and transporting the snack packs to the school for distribution. 

“This collaboration is ideally how we want our Extension programs to work, especially when you look at how great the needs are in some of our communities,” Bittner says. “The ability to address those needs isn’t accomplished by one person. It requires the community as a whole, stepping up to solve or address the issue.”

If you’d like to make a gift to this program, please visit https://mas.nmsu.edu/now.

4-H in the Schools

Stephani Treadwell, principal at Collet Park Elementary School in Albuquerque, turned to NMSU’s 4-H Youth Development program to spark her students’ success. 

“Our students were not retaining the information they had been proficient in the prior week,” Treadwell says. “New information is retained when it is connected to knowledge already gained through an experience, and the majority of our students live in poverty and have not had a wide variety of experience to link classroom learning to.”

She contacted NMSU’s 4-H agents Brittany Sonntag and Nicole Jacobs at the Bernalillo County Extension office in Albuquerque, and a successful collaboration began.

“We believe Collett Park Elementary is the first school in the nation to implement the 4-H club model and curriculum during the school day,” Sonntag says. “The results are amazing.”

The school has had an increase in student test results from 16 percent proficiency in language arts to 47 percent; an increase in school attendance from 23 percent chronic absenteeism to 7 percent; and a decrease in behavioral issues from averaging a couple of suspensions a month to none in the first half of the 2018-2019 school year.

Prison Garden

Prisoners at the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility are learning horticulture and the joy of growing fresh vegetables through an ongoing collaboration between Jeff Anderson, NMSU’s Extension agricultural agent in Doña Ana County, Sandra Lopez, SNMCF classification officer 2B Unit, and a cohort of 16 inmates.

The inmates have created a garden of 10 above-ground beds, containing a variety of plants, including asparagus, squash, beets, garlic, onions and jalapenos that thrive under their care.

What started as Anderson providing weekly gardening classes, has now evolved into the experienced inmates teaching new residents who are involved in the GOAL program – Goal, Opportunity, Accomplishment and Learning.

“I’m trying to teach skills. Not just gardening but also landscaping and ideas and opportunities for starting a business,” Anderson says. “Hopefully, when they leave incarceration, what they have learned here will keep them on the path to success." 

Collet Park Elementary School third-grade student Gavin Bendall learns to weave during a 4-H club meeting. The Albuquerque elementary school is seeing success from a school-wide 4-H program taught in the classroom.

NMSU Cooperative Extension Service agent Jeff Anderson, right, speaks with an inmate in July 2018 at the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility. Anderson assisted inmates at the prison in establishing a therapeutic gardening program in 2016.