Reimagining New Mexico's Secondary and Postsecondary Education

Posted June 6, 2024
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Four diverse young people wearing transparent face shields, protective face masks, and blue latex gloves triumphantly high-five in a classroom setting.

Aztec Family Dental has four X3 NeXt interns this semester. Photo courtesy of Future Focused Education.

Future Focused Edu­ca­tion (FFE), based in Albu­querque, New Mex­i­co, is trans­form­ing the state’s approach to sec­ondary and post­sec­ondary edu­ca­tion and its stu­dents’ tran­si­tion to col­lege and careers. A part­ner in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Thrive by 25® efforts, FFE has devel­oped inno­v­a­tive intern­ship pro­grams, pro­vid­ed tech­ni­cal assis­tance to school dis­tricts and engaged in pol­i­cy advo­ca­cy to increase oppor­tu­ni­ties for young people.

Future Focused Edu­ca­tion has a laser focus on the well-being of young peo­ple, ages 14 through 24, the intend­ed ben­e­fi­cia­ries of Thrive by 25,” said Charles Rutheis­er, a Casey senior asso­ciate. The orga­ni­za­tion has been mak­ing sec­ondary and post­sec­ondary edu­ca­tion much more ground­ed in the expe­ri­ence of young peo­ple, keep­ing those youth engaged with school or oth­er train­ing and deliv­er­ing results that are impor­tant for stu­dents, their fam­i­lies and their communities.” 

Remov­ing Bar­ri­ers to Work and Edu­ca­tion in New Mexico

Stu­dents from low-income fam­i­lies often must work to meet basic needs. But low-skill, low-wage jobs that can keep stu­dents out late inter­fere with their edu­ca­tion and pro­vide lit­tle prepa­ra­tion for sus­tain­able careers. High school stu­dents in FFE’s X3 intern­ship pro­gram have a more mean­ing­ful, paid work expe­ri­ence while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly earn­ing school credit.

The X3 pro­gram has expand­ed access to intern­ships for youth who may lack the con­nec­tions for these valu­able oppor­tu­ni­ties. FFE pro­vides X3 stu­dents with what it calls 360-degree sup­port,” which includes com­pre­hen­sive job ori­en­ta­tions and men­tor­ship. X3 also works with employ­ers to ensure both they and stu­dents ben­e­fit from the internship.

We have knocked down a lot of bias bar­ri­ers that box out many young peo­ple from these expe­ri­ences,” said Tony Mon­filet­to, founder of FFE. We cre­ate the job descrip­tions with the employ­ers, we inter­view the stu­dents, insure them and pro­vide onboard­ing sup­port. At the end of the intern­ship, we have an eval­u­a­tion that is done with the employer.”

Mak­ing Suc­cess­ful Post-Sec­ondary Transitions

FFE has been expand­ing its work into rur­al areas of New Mex­i­co, where oppor­tu­ni­ties for intern­ships are scarce. For exam­ple, in Des Moines, a remote ranch­ing com­mu­ni­ty in north­east New Mex­i­co, the X3 intern­ship pro­gram is enabling stu­dents to learn how to use archi­tec­ture soft­ware to design and build a small house. Area par­tic­i­pants gath­er reg­u­lar­ly to learn from pro­fes­sion­al archi­tects and contractors.

To help high school grad­u­ates suc­cess­ful­ly make the tran­si­tion to fur­ther edu­ca­tion and careers, FFE devel­oped X3 NeXt. This pro­gram pairs stu­dents with employ­ers, allow­ing young peo­ple to gain work expe­ri­ence while earn­ing cer­tifi­cates and degrees from col­leges and train­ing pro­grams. FFE and the Uni­ver­si­ty of New Mex­i­co Hos­pi­tal have devel­oped a $1 mil­lion part­ner­ship to fund intern­ships for recent grad­u­ates and high school students.

Over the past six years, the X3 and X3 NeXt intern­ship pro­grams have grown to 170 employ­ers, with some 1,500 place­ments and near­ly $2 mil­lion paid to young people.

New Mexico’s Inno­va­tion Zones

To help sup­port the state’s large pop­u­la­tion of young peo­ple, ages 16 to 24, who are nei­ther in school nor work­ing, the New Mex­i­co Pub­lic Edu­ca­tion Depart­ment estab­lished Inno­va­tion Zones. The ini­tia­tive des­ig­nates high schools that are redesign­ing edu­ca­tion by incor­po­rat­ing proven approach­es to engage stu­dents in and out of the class­room. Key ele­ments of Inno­va­tion Zones include:

  • high-qual­i­ty instruc­tion that com­bines the cul­tur­al back­ground of stu­dents with chal­leng­ing career and tech­ni­cal education;
  • per­son­al­ized sup­port for stu­dents; and 
  • part­ner­ships with fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ty organizations.

The Pub­lic Edu­ca­tion Depart­ment has engaged FFE to pro­vide tech­ni­cal assis­tance to the 47 Inno­va­tion Zones statewide. We have cre­at­ed ini­tia­tives that get at some of the hard­est-to-solve prob­lems in the state, includ­ing young people’s access to high-pay­ing jobs and the way we think about what a young per­son needs to learn,” said Mon­filet­to. All those ini­tia­tives are now part of the state’s strat­e­gy to redesign high schools.”

Youth Civic Infra­struc­ture Fund

FFE’s Youth Civic Infra­struc­ture Fund pro­vides mul­ti­year grants to non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tions that seek to inte­grate young peo­ple and schools into their work. Projects embed­ded in the com­mu­ni­ty and designed by schools and non­prof­its pro­vide stu­dents with real-world expe­ri­ence address­ing com­mu­ni­ty-defined chal­lenges. In San­ta Fe, for exam­ple, home­less­ness and hous­ing insta­bil­i­ty guide the fund’s work. In Aztec, a small rur­al town in north­west New Mex­i­co, the issue is youth men­tal health.

FFE has been an effec­tive pol­i­cy advo­cate for the well-being of ado­les­cents and young adults. Over the past three leg­isla­tive cycles, fund­ing for Inno­va­tion Zones increased from $12 mil­lion to $40 mil­lion. This year, the state’s sum­mer intern­ship bud­get increased from $8 mil­lion to $10 mil­lion. A recent leg­isla­tive suc­cess changed the state’s grad­u­a­tion require­ments to include work-based learn­ing and cap­stone projects that devel­op skills that are trans­fer­able to careers — for exam­ple, team­work, effec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion and prob­lem solving.

View NBC News Pro­file of Future Focused Education

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