U.S., Mexico share school to erase 'cultural'ignorance


COLUMBUS, N.M. -- The first binational school -- financed by money from the United States and Mexico -- is set to open here this fall as a pilot for similar schools planned along the border.

"This school will serve as a starting point for many such schools we'd like to have in place by the year 2010 from Texas to California," said Betty Mace-Matluck, director of the Southwest Education Development Laboratory in Austin, Texas.

The organization is orchestrating the schools to erase what Ms. Mace-Matluck called "cultural ignorance" between Mexico and the United States.

The pilot school will have two facilities -- one here and one at Palomas, in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.

Initially, the school will be financed with a mix of local, state and federal funds designated for traditional education by each country. Organizers hope both Mexico and the United States later will designate specific funds for the project.

The school is expected to attract about 1,000 students -- 600 from Palomas and 400 from Columbus.

"This is the kind of thing we need," said Manuel Hernandez, spokesman for the Mexican Consulate in El Paso, Texas. "It's going to be beneficial to both sides of the border."

The school has been endorsed by Palomas Mayor Julieta Avina and Deming, N.M., School Superintendent Carlos Viramontes. Columbus is part of the Deming school district.

Mr. Viramontes said the school will stress bilingual education and will offer courses in the history and literature of both nations. The school also will focus on border history and culture.

The Southwest Education Development Laboratory, a federally-supported education research lab, spent more than a year developing the school.

Ms. Mace-Matluck said that after passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement officials set out to see how border education could be enhanced.

After meetings on both sides of the border, officials from the education laboratory decided there was a need for binational education.

"NAFTA was the impetus," said Rosalind Alexander, spokeswoman for the laboratory. "Then we wanted to see if anything had been done. We were surprised to find out that nothing had been done."

Many cities were interested in getting the school, Ms. Mace-Matluck said. One reason it went to Columbus-Palomas, she said, is the good relationship between the towns.

LTC Activist Jack Long of Columbus said he lobbied for the school because the Deming district has been educating Mexican children for 40 years. He said hundreds of Mexican children cross the border every day to attend district schools.

Ms. Mace-Matluck said efforts are under way to get the two facilities, which are three miles apart, connected electronically so the same classes can be taught simultaneously at both places.

While the initial financing will come from education funds channeled to the two towns through the states of Chihuahua and New Mexico, the U.S. government is expected to provide a one-time grant of $240,000 for creation and installation of the electronic equipment to connect the facilities.

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