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The Los Alamos Public Schools is looking for seed money for its latest project; alternative programs for students who want to skip the college-after high school route, yet find a rewarding job upon graduating high school.
Called "High School 2.0,” the program seeks to arm qualified students with a high school diploma as well as an Associate’s Degree from the University of New Mexico, Los Alamos in the following fields: fire science, pre-engineering with a focus on robotics, a premedical degree with a focus on emergency medical service and possibly other degree programs.
“We already have a real solid AP program in place; what we’re trying to do is address the other end of the spectrum, kids that might be interested in a career-type path as well as those who at risk of dropping out because they see our current programs as meeting their needs,” said Assistant Superintendent of Schools Gerry Washburn, who also co-authored the proposal to fund the program.
“By way of using this early college, high school model, we have a way of exposing them to different career paths as well as getting them engaged in school so they can say, ‘okay, I can get out of high school with a high school diploma and a good start if not a complete AA degree and be well on my way to being employable if not immediately employable upon leaving high school.”
The administration is in the process of writing a proposal to the New Mexico Public Education Department in hopes the PED will fund the project with $100,000 in grant money to get it started.
UNM-LA will reportedly play an advisory role in the venture, with the community college providing the curriculum and other expertise. UNM-LA’s teaching staff would also help out teaching the more specialized, advanced classes in the programs.
According to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Gene Schmidt, one of the highlights of the program is that teachers in the Los Alamos Public School District will be tapped to teach in the program as well.
“If funded, what we would be looking to do is send out a request to teachers who were interested in teaching college level courses in the high school,” he said. “This could be across the district, since this doesn’t have to be traditional hours. You could be teaching in elementary school yet also teach a college-in-the-high school course.”
Schmidt said if they’re successful in securing the grant money, the district will be starting as early as middle school to identify students whose fit the criteria. They will do that, he said through summer camp programs and other means, including reaching out to parents who may be interested interested in this course for their child. He said another group of students they hope to interest in the program, if they get the grant, is kids who don’t have an initial interest in college, either because their parents didn’t attend or they cannot afford tuition.
“We’re also looking for what we call the ‘non-traditional college family,’” he said. “Even in Los Alamos there’s a population of about 10 percent of our graduates who have never been to college before. So we’re also asking the question how do we recruit kids whose families have not thought about college.”
At a recent Los Alamos School Board meeting, board members were overwhelmingly in favor of the idea, with some caveats.
Board member Dr. Kevin Honnell said while he favored the idea, he would like to see the administration come back in October with input from teachers within the district.
“I’d make an idea or a request that if it passes tonight, that it be socialized with the faculty at the middle school or the high school and their insights be brought back to the board in the form of a report in October, so we can understand that there’s sufficient buy in by the boots on the ground and that we can be aware of the things that they will need or that they can foresee that they will need in order to succeed in doing this.”