The 11-year-old boy’s explanation didn’t make sense. He had shown up Sept. 25, 2017, at San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington – purple bruises covering his body, ligature marks on his neck, a patch of hair ripped from his head and black eyes so badly swollen he couldn’t latch his glasses behind his ears. Doctors feared he had a skull fracture. He insisted he’d tripped in his front yard while practicing soccer.
Tyler Bennallie, 11, sprawls on the floor of his family’s mobile home on the Navajo Nation in Fort Defiance, Arizona, while his baby sister bounces on his back. He doesn’t mind when 1-year-old Emily plays horsey on him, or when she babbles loudly in his ear, or when she interrupts his efforts to talk about his favorite things, like Iron Man Legos. A tall, kind-faced boy with dark-framed glasses and a buzz cut, Tyler doesn’t even object when Emily grabs his prized “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books. His brothers, Conner, 4, and Bryson, 6, meanwhile play with his Lego Super Heroes — his most treasured possessions — which could be headless, legless or MIA by the time the two get done. “They usually destroy all my stuff,” Tyler says calmly.
ALAMO-HUECO RANCH — The boys wake before dawn, eat sausage and biscuits in the cookhouse and saddle their horses at first light. James Hurt is 12, a month away from becoming a teenager. His brother, David, is 11. They wear Wrangler shirts, jeans and cowboy boots and move quietly in the dark corral, lit by a single bulb. It’s an autumn Sunday in 2017.
ANTHONY — A tall chain-link fence splits the preschool campus behind Anthony Elementary in southern New Mexico: federally funded classrooms on one side, state-funded classrooms on the other. The fence serves as a literal and symbolic divide segregating two sets of classrooms outfitted with the same child-size tables, chairs and toys; two sets of highly trained teachers; two separate playgrounds — and a bitter competition for 4-year-old children. As New Mexico has expanded early education for toddlers over the past decade, the state has created a system that bars providers from mixing state and federal funds in the same classroom. It’s a policy – not a law – that effectively separates kids into rival programs, often divided by income. Head Start serves the lowest income families in New Mexico; the state programs serve families from a range of income levels.