Shiprock — New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez announced on Wednesday a new education initiative to assist Navajo parents in helping children improve their reading skills.

On Wednesday, Martinez said the state's "Readers Raise the Roof" materials will be translated into the Navajo language so parents can used the materials at home.

"Readers Raise the Roof" is an interactive 90-minute workshop held at schools to help engage and equip parents and students with strategies to teach reading.

"I'm excited to see how the translation of these materials into Diné will build on the successes of students," Martinez said during an event at Nizhoni Elementary School in Shiprock.

Parents and students listen Wednesday as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at Nizhoni Elementary School in Shiprock.
Parents and students listen Wednesday as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at Nizhoni Elementary School in Shiprock. (Jon Austria / The Daily Times)

Among those who joined Martinez for the announcement were former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Mexico Public Education Department Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera, Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim and Central Consolidated School District Superintendent Don Levinski.

The governor also talked about the steady success the state has made in education. This past legislative session, Martinez said $1.2 million was secured to develop a parent portal, which would help parents review their children's academic progress online.

"I want to emphasize that every single student is capable of academic success and deserves every chance," Martinez said.

She also highlighted Nizhoni Elementary's success in rising from an 'F' to a 'B' grade on the state's school assessments.

"That's why this school is so amazing," she said.

Bush said he understands the challenge New Mexico is facing as it tries to raise its education standards and placements because Florida faced similar challenges.

"Stay the course, don't go back. Stay involved. Reward the great successes that have taken place," Bush said.

Jim encouraged the students to continue developing their reading skills.

"Reading becomes a passion and then you can read about anything you might want to know about," he said.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez speaks Wednesday at Nizhoni Elementary School in Shiprock.
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez speaks Wednesday at Nizhoni Elementary School in Shiprock. (Jon Austria / The Daily Times)

Regina Benally is the parent of sixth and eighth grade students at Tsé Bit' a'í Middle School in Shiprock.

She echoed Jim's statement about the importance of reading but was concerned about the parent portal because not every parent has access to the Internet due to its limited availability on the reservation.

Rejena Brownhat has a daughter in the fourth grade at Nizhoni Elementary.

"I think it is very helpful especially with the things the kids (are) going through now," Brownhat said about Martinez's announcement.

At the same time Martinez was in Shiprock, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lawrence Rael held a roundtable discussion about education in Farmington.

Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim and Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speak Wednesday at Nizhoni Elementary School in Shiprock.
Navajo Nation Vice President Rex Lee Jim and Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speak Wednesday at Nizhoni Elementary School in Shiprock. (Jon Austria / The Daily Times)

Rael said part of the discussion focused on the "so-called reform" that Martinez is pushing in education and how the governor and Skandera are failing.

Another concern is the over testing of students and how much classroom time is being spent on teaching for state tests rather than developing students' critical thinking skills.

"They (teachers) don't have enough time to teach now," Rael said then added that it is important to include teachers when developing a solution to the state's education problems.

As for the online portal, Rael said while that outlet would benefit parents living in urban areas, it can be a disservice to those living in rural areas.

Rather than developing this type of system, the focus should be on building telecommunication and infrastructure in those places, he said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and nsmith@daily-times.com. Follow her on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.