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Everyone was in for a surprise in 1909 when New Mexico declared open the Spanish American Normal School at El Rito. The school had been founded to train teachers for the vast region of the Ro Arriba in which there were few schools and the citizenry still did not speak English, sixty years after becoming a territory of the United States. The Territory of New Mexico, in quest of statehood, had decided that fluency of its people in English would earn it the right to become one of the Forty-eight, which it did three years later. State and school officials were dismayed that few students were sufficiently prepared to become teachers. First, most had to learn to cipher and to read and write. The region's geographic isolation, scant means of communication, and lack of roadways rendered it impossible for anyone to make the proper estimate of educational need, it turned out. But the school's students soon discovered how much they liked the Normal School, and how willing the school was to meet their educational need. Although the Normal School trained as many as one hundred teachers in the first decades, in time it became an elementary and high school with strong traditions and loyal students. As a boarding campus, the Normal School attracted students from throughout New Mexico, many at a very young age. Children of the Normal School recount how unity of spirit created a new culture of Americans that few knew about, and how their esprit was built on mutual esteem and shared belief.
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