The award recognizes Ortega’s work in addressing food insecurity and preserving Northern New Mexican heritage

May 31, 2023

Dr. Dolores Ortega

Dr. Dolores Ortega, professor of Social Work at New Mexico Highlands University, was honored last month with an Excellence in Student Achievement Award by the New Mexico School Boards (NMSBA) Association. Ortega was recognized for her work in addressing food insecurity and developing a heritage Spanish-language curriculum.  

Dr. Ortega is an NMHU alumna and earned her Ph.D. in Education from Claremont Graduate University. She resides in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and was raised as a heritage Spanish speaker. Ortega’s entry point into her language and cultural heritage work began with her efforts to address the food insecurity faced by school-aged students. The Excellence in Student Achievement Award from the NMSBA honors Ortega’s work on food insecurity and the promotion of Spanish and cultural heritage in the classroom.  

“I worked with elementary school teachers to create heritage-based activities that honor the local and Northern New Mexico language heritage,” Ortega said. “The ‘Curríulo de Herencia: Heritage Spanish Language Curriculum’ engages students with the local and regional dialectical language and culture.” 

The NMSBA honors educators with the Excellence in Student Achievement Award to those who seek “to promote student achievement in school districts and assist local school boards in recognizing school leaders, staff and other individuals who have played an important role in improving student achievement at the local level.”  

Ortega is grateful to have received the award and says it was made possible through the support of the Las Vegas City Schools Board and superintendent Laryssa Archuleta. She is also grateful for two LVCS employees, Thomas Trujillo and Isaiah Garcia, both of whom worked with Ortega to distribute holiday food boxes to children and elders in Las Vegas. For Ortega, ensuring that the community is fed is an important part of her work in preserving northern New Mexican heritage.  

“This cherished language is a gift given to us by our grampitos and gramitas as children. Yet, as children who entered formal education, we encountered and endured negative messages and meanings given to Heritage Spanish,” Ortega said. “I was one of the many heritage speakers who were told by formal educators, ‘Your Spanish is wrong.’ I didn’t believe them.”  

According to Ortega, Heritage Spanish cemented long-standing multi-generational family relationships, including a bilingual/bicultural identity that is part of the lived experiences in Northern New Mexico.  

“What a joy to enter a classroom where heritage Spanish speakers are speaking their home language in a formal educational setting,” Ortega said. “Que se sembra en mi casita, mi ranchito, en mi alma es mi herencia, que no?”