grandparents raising grandchildren

Over the last year, Chaparral Elementary School has launched a highly successful family academy to support its non-traditional families and link them with community resources.

Chaparral’s family academy was born from a place of tragedy. When Erica Martinez-Maestas came on as Chaparral Elementary's principal, there were five youth homicides in Santa Fe. Four of the offenders were former Chaparral students.

“While I didn’t know those students, they were our kids, they were Chaparral kids,” Martinez-Maestas said. “As I looked in our hallways, I thought how on earth could a child who sat in these chairs, who walked these hallways, commit a murder at the age of 15? It’s really what motivated us to start talking about trauma-informed practices and providing support to families so that we don’t have that happen again.”

In the fall, the family academy focused on single parents, including several single fathers. 

“We asked them to complete four different tasks. One was in-person attendance at their child’s parent-teacher conference, one was volunteering at our jog-a-thon or our pancake breakfast and the other two were classes,” said Martinez-Maestas.

One class was a financial literacy course hosted by Del Norte Credit Union and the second was a parenting class hosted by The Sky Center.

Parents were paid a stipend through the Family Engagement Office for attending all four.

“Our hope is that by giving them some new skills they’ll be able to perhaps improve their situation. With the financial literacy, maybe they learned something about saving money or investing or paying off a bill,” said Martinez-Maestas. “(Or) that they’re more engaged in our school community and feel welcomed.” 

This spring, the family academy looked a little different due to a focus on grandparents and extended family members who are parenting for the second time around.

“It’s being led by Blue Jay Mental Health,” said Martinez-Maestas. “We have a provider coming in working with the guardians on topics such as family values, setting rules and boundaries at home, maybe things like communicating with your kiddo, consequences, things like that."

While the guardians are in session, Martinez-Maestas or Chaparral’s community school coordinator stay with their children and play board games. A meal is provided for both guardians and kids to free up evening time so the families can attend.

“Something we’re noticing with the spring family academy is that they don’t want to leave when it’s over, which is great,” Martinez-Maestas said. “They are becoming a community within a community. Some of them may have felt isolated before and like they were the only grandparent raising a grandkid. Now they’re seeing there’s other people like them and they are exchanging phone numbers and scheduling playdates.”