Grant gives LA students more options

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Education > Board approves $100K amendment for different type of curriculum

By Tris DeRoma

The Los Alamos School Board recently made the safety net a little wider for high school grads when it approved a $100,000 amendment to the school budget. The money comes in the form of a grant from the New Mexico Public Education Department.
According to school officials, the grant will be used to lay the foundation for a curriculum suited for students who don’t necessarily want to go straight to college after high school, but perhaps explore other options, such as a trade or preparation for a career in the military or law enforcement.
The grant’s official name is “Early College in the High School”, and is sponsored and promoted by Gov. Susana Martinez through a partnership with New Mexico’s business community.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Eugene Schmidt said the money will be used to lay the foundation of the program, to buy the equipment and do the planning they need to slowly grow and nurture what they hope will be a permanent asset for the community.
“This is the building and momentum phase,” he said. He added that this is the second time the district applied for the grant, and the first time it won it. Schmidt said they only found out a few days ago that they won. While it’s good news, PED rules state the district must spend the money by June. For the past few days, administration officials and school board members have been meeting and formulating a plan as to what would be the best use of the funds.
Since the program may rely heavily on partnerships with area colleges and trade schools, the district has invested in video conferencing equipment. They will also be purchasing computers and graphics software in anticipation of their partnership with “Purple Neuron”, a New Mexico-based digital media firm with connections to DreamWorks entertainment company.
“According to PED, all the money has to be spent by June 30,” Schmidt said. “So, what we took the board was an adjustment to the budget that would allow us to spend more money buying the things we felt would add sustainability to the grant,” Schmidt said.
The video conferencing equipment will give the fledgling program more options, Schmidt said.
“So the thought process was, what if someone wanted to be involved with nursing, could we make contact with a college that had nursing programs? ... This opens up all kinds of possibilities for expanding programs,” Schmidt said.
This will be the second time the district applied for the grant and the first time it won it. School Board President Jim Hall said when the idea first presented itself, they immediately went for it.
“When you have a school district that is as scholastically diverse as Los Alamos’ is, it’s incumbent upon us to offer a very broad variety of ways for students to achieve and move on after high school,” Hall said. “While very many go on to college, there’s a significant number that do not, and we think it’s important that they too are prepared for what happens after high school.”
According to Schmidt, their first education partner will most like be with the high school’s neighbor across the street, the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos.
“It is our intent to have as many articulated agreements with UNM-LA as possible to create programs right here in the community,” Schmidt said.
Most likely, that partnership will look similar to the Robotics program that the two schools already share. In that program, UNM-LA professor Don Davis also teaches robot technology at the high school, and has founded and built a pretty robust and competitive robotics program. Many high school students have used yje program as a bridge to engineering and computer majors in college.
But first things first, Schmidt said.
“The first thing we want to do is do the things that put us on the right track,” he said.
“If we have interactive video conferencing centers for our students, if we have digital media equipment (laptops, software, green screens) perhaps we can build courses about game design, building phone apps… high interest, technology driven things that will a little bit of certification and skill, a student can jump out of here with a wide open field of career opportunities waiting for them,” Schmidt said. Future goals also include nursing, and courses that specialize in crime forensics, culinary arts and other fields experiencing high-growth.
Schmidt said they are in talks with UNM-LA now about starting a summer enrichment program with the school this summer, where ninth graders will be able to explore and learn about some of the career paths available in technology and science.
Some of the money will be spent on field trips to high schools that already have early college programs, and not just in New Mexico.
Schmidt noted that they want to explore programs that are experiencing success in Kansas, New York, Wisconsin and other places.
“We want to get people traveling in the spring and the summer to see who is doing this well,” Schmidt said.