The Wild Friends Program: A new generation of advocates
February 15, 2019 - Sal Guardiola II
Just one month ago today, New Mexico kicked off the 2019 Legislative Session. Since then the Roundhouse has been abuzz with groups vying for the attention of New Mexico’s legislators. One group tends to stand out from among the rest thanks to its members’ turquoise t-shirts. Throughout the Session, this turquoise-clad group has been advocating relentlessly for Senate Bill 234 and the related House Bill 381. Who is this group, and what are these bills about?
Meet the young people of the Wild Friends Program, an award-winning civics education program at the UNM School of Law providing hands-on learning to students in grades 4-12 across New Mexico. In this unique program, students help draft legislation on a wildlife conservation issue and work to pass it in the New Mexico State Legislature. These “Wild Friends” learn how the government operates and that they have a voice in that operation.
Both Senate Bill 234 and House Bill 381 would establish a new specialty license plate that promotes the protection of pollinators like birds, bats, butterflies, and bees. According to Sue George, director of Wild Friends of New Mexico, “proceeds from the sale of the license plates will go to the New Mexico Department of Transportation to increase pollinator-friendly planting along roadsides and establish demo gardens at New Mexico rest area stops.”
Already, students from the Albuquerque Sign Language Academy, South Valley Academy, El Camino Real Academy, Rio Rancho Cyber Academy, Monte Vista Elementary in Las Cruces, Northeast Elementary in Farmington, and Turquoise Trail Charter School in Santa Fe have visited the Legislature and advocated for the passage of Senate Bill 234 and House Bill 381. Five of these students testified as expert witnesses before the Senate Corporations and Transportation committee last week, where SB 234 passed unanimously.
Today, students from Rio Rancho Middle School will be the ones advocating for these bills. In addition, students from 21st Century Public Academy, Alamosa Elementary, and Guadalupe Montessori School in Silver City will visit the Legislature before the Legislative Session ends on March 16.
The Wild Friends Program is part of the UNM School of Law’s Institute of Public Law and is funded in part by the Child & Family Justice Initiative (“CFJI”), a project that exists to improve health and well-being outcomes for vulnerable children and families in New Mexico. The CFJI is distinct in that it functions on three levels: pipelining to Law School, preparation in Law School, and Practice beyond Law School.
At the pipelining level, UNM Law seeks to attract students from communities that are underrepresented in the legal field with the hope that those students will go on to advocate for their communities. Since most of the schools that participate in the Wild Friends program are Title I schools, many of the students in those schools come from the vulnerable communities that UNM Law seeks to serve. Therefore, the students who are active in Wild Friends are precisely the students whom UNM Law desires to see active in its classrooms and, later, advocating relentlessly in the legal field.
If you would like to find out more about the CFJI, please contact Sal Guardiola II at 505-277-9065 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.