The COVID-19 pandemic has put an especially large strain on schools. It has caused states to have no choice but to request help from the National Guard in order to keep schools open. New Mexico is the first to have them within the classrooms.
In Las Vegas, New Mexico, many kids are thrilled to be in the classroom, but that doesn’t mean the pandemic is done affecting them. Many teachers are out with COVID-related issues and their vacancy is filled by a new set of substitute teachers: The National Guard.
Sgt. Lee Allingham returned from deployment in Arabia and Kuwait last year and is now on the ground at Robertson High School.
"I’m feeling ecstatic. It’s a new experience for me. It’s something I’ve never dreamed about doing," Allingham said.
He is filling in for nearly every subject to take a load off of the administration. As principal Michael Yara says, the extra help makes a drastic difference.
“As a principal, I would cover classes. My assistant principal covering classes. We’d have our counselors they would be in classes. We were all just kind of trying to cover it as best we could while trying to do our other jobs as well," Yara said.
He points out unlike larger cities, small communities like theirs are suffering from COVID absences the most.
“But small communities there aren’t a whole lot of resources for us to go to," Yara said.
In their district, they used to have about forty substitute teachers for twelve schools. Now, that number has dwindled to five.
“So, getting a substitute teacher was rare and very difficult to get anybody here," Yara said. “And right now, we are in a crisis and I think this has been a positive impact on all of us involved.”
Brigadier General Miguel Aguilar sees his men and women stepping up to teach which is something they’ve never had experience doing.
“We want certified teachers in a classroom full of kids, but we know that’s not always the case," Aguilar said. “What I tell them is for every one guardsman we have in a classroom, there is probably 25 sets of parents that aren’t worried about where their kids are.”
In New Mexico alone, there are eighty soldiers and airmen a part of this mission working across 36 school districts.
“This is just a different way to do it in substitute teaching as compared to responding to floods and fires or going overseas to serve our country but it comes from the same love of community and the state and this country," Aguilar said. “We hadn’t seen any other states do these specific things, which is go into the classroom as substitute teachers.”
Districts across the country, such as in Maryland and Massachusetts, have used National Guard troops to help drive school buses. New Mexico is the first state to put guards people in the classroom. They are showing other states, this can work.
“It’s basically like a 24/7 job, you always have to have what you’re going to do the next day or even weeks in advance to help continue these kids education," Allingham said. “The thing I can say is don’t take teachers for granted. They are here with their time, with their effort, with their training and expertise to help teach the future.”