Roger Montoya



La Tierra Montessori School of the Arts and Sciences is a free public state charter school that is serving as a demonstration model. Located in the heart of northern New Mexico at the former Oñate Monument and Visitor’s Center in Alcalde, LTMAS is the first public Montessori school in Río Arriba County. In its second year of operation the school is serving 85 kindergarten-through-seventh-grade students from the Española Valley and surrounding communities.


Employing the Montessori “whole child” approach, which considers the social, emotional, physical and academic health of children, the school’s core academic plan integrates science and arts with outdoor classroom learning, including land-based projects that reflect the rich farming traditions and acequia cultura unique to the region. In multi-aged classrooms, academic achievement programs, guided by the New Mexico Common Core Standards and Benchmarks, and driven by the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) model of educational innovation, address the particular learning needs of each child.


Children’s cognitive development is improved through the use of materials designed specifically for kinesthetic and sensory-based learning. La Tierra is an environment that fosters the development of emotional intelligence and wellness through a student’s mind, body and spirit. The goal is to foster competent, responsible, healthy and independent citizens who love learning and respect themselves, other people and their environment.


A central goal for students is the need to form a personal identity and to know how one fits into the world. In addition to providing opportunities for peer interaction and acceptance, the program helps fulfill the need for mentor relationships with adults outside of the family. As students progress to upper elementary and middle school, LTMAS assists them in developing real-world skills such as the ability to abstract, conjecture, predict and create. LTMAS engages students in agricultural business endeavors and other activities that encourage them to initiate entrepreneurial projects.


The school actively encourages the involvement of families and the community and invites a diverse array of partner institutions, organizations and individuals to contribute to the curriculum. Through a partnership with the Española Community Market and the Río Arriba County Department of Health, LTMAS received a grant to initiate an ongoing vegetarian culinary arts program and monthly community meals utilizing seasonal produce from local farms and the school’s own hoop-house. The school-based Health Center provides convenient standard primary care, manages behavioral health practitioners and encourages healthy diet and nutrition programs for families.


Through a creative partnership with the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, each week LTMAS’s students and staff work and learn at the nearby Los Luceros Historic Ranch. This outdoor classroom is a bioregional treasure, replete with 140 acres of pristine resources. Learning takes place along the banks of the Río Grande and the acequia madre, as well as farmlands, orchards, historic structures and in the bosque. Katherine Eagelson, director of the Española Wildlife Center, has led weekly studies on ecology and animal habitat. As part of a generous collaboration, the Wildlife Center has brought its staff and resources to the school for an in-depth semester-long unit centered on composting and soil composition.


Another collaborative project was initiated last winter with the New Mexico Acequia Association’s Sembrando Semillas Proyecto (Planting Seeds Project). The project leaders were the NMAA’s Juliet Garcia-Gonzales; Eduardo Gonzales, field coordinator for the National Immigrant Farmers Initiative; FarmCorps intern Adam Casados; and Eric Casados, who served as a youth mentor. The enthusiasm of visiting farmers was matched through a service learning initiative that began in April 2013 with “Limpia de la Acequia.” Seventy-five student volunteers and their families cleaned 600 feet of acequia, adopted and pruned 65 apple trees and planted two traditional garden plots of maíz, frijol, papas, chile y calabasas (corn, beans, potatoes, chile and squash). During June and July the La Tierra Summer Leadership Camp employed 25 youth to maintain a large garden plot. The youth also participated in a culinary arts program and were introduced to the Mesa Prieta Petroglyph Project, a local award-winning nonprofit that has designed an earth sciences/New Mexico history curriculum that is being integrated into this year’s studies.



Roger Montoya is a community arts-and-education activist and co- founder/director of the Arts and Cultural Programs at La Tierra Montessori Charter School. 505.852.0200,



[SIDEBAR] Photos of the Solar/Yurt project in progress


Prompted by a lack of space at the current campus, La Tierra students, staff and families prepared for their second year working with solar engineer/community activist Bob Dunsmore of Vallecitos to erect a 30-foot diameter Mongolian yurt. This project was approved by the New Mexico Public Education Department, a first for a New Mexico Public Charter School.



Last month school community members learned about affordable renewable energy solutions as they installed a solar collector radiant heating system. The project was made possible through a contribution by Conoco Phillips and in-kind support by Mateo Piexhno of the Avanyu Construction, LLC of Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo.





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