LC Bulletin: The Bridge links earning, learning

January 7, 2011. Retrieved online January 12, 2011 from Gabriel Vasquez, Las Cruces Bulletin

Local nonprofit boasts state’s first early college high school

Higher learning means higher earning, and The Bridge of Southern New Mexico is hoping to drive that message home to students already attending the Arrowhead Park Early College High School (ECHS) on the New Mexico State University campus.

The Bridge, a local nonprofit that has brought together teachers, students, parents, the education community and private industry, was the catalyst for the new high school – the first of its kind in the state – that opened July 2010 to 117 Las Cruces freshmen. For now, the school is operating out of Doña Ana Community College, but will begin operations from its new Arrowhead Park campus once construction is finished in August, said Tracey Bryan, president and CEO of The Bridge.

“To compete in the 21st century workforce, you need at least a two-year degree or industry certification to really have a shot to succeed,” said Bryan, speaking at a Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance business forum Tuesday, Jan. 4. “The Early College High School exists for the purpose of building a stronger workforce for the ultimate goal of creating a stronger economic future for Doña Ana County.”

To achieve the feat, The Bridge, born out of what was then the Regional Education Initiative, began seeking partnerships and board members from different areas of industry and education around the county. With partners such as Barbara Couture, president of NMSU; Margie Huerta, president of DACC; Stan Rounds, superintendent of Las Cruces Public Schools; Cynthia Nava, superintendent of the Gadsden Independent School District; and Robert Garza, Las Cruces city manager, The Bridge has secured the human capital and money needed to move forward with the project.

“We have the top leaders in this county from all these different sectors,” Bryan said. “The reason The Bridge will and is already having an impact is because these people have the authority to make the decisions that need to be made.”

The curriculum for the new high school, which centers on an industry- and career-specific learning environment, was designed around “the best educational practices” in the nation, Bryan said.

“Nationally, (early college high schools) have a 90-percent graduation rate,” she said. “They (use) the best practices in education, such as small classes and applied learning, and the teachers can really work with students not just as teachers, but as mentors.”

If the Doña Ana County dropout rate was reduced by half in one year, those students who graduate high school would have a cumulative earning power of $3.3 million, and if those same students got a four-year degree, they’d earn about$12 million, according to a recent Arrowhead Center study Bryan cited. Additionally, the county’s home values would increase by $66 million if those students stayed in Doña Ana County and the state would stand to gain $212,000 in added tax revenue.

Getting students to understand the connection between education and future earnings is critical, Bryan said.

“We’re turning to the private sector for that,” she said. “Mentors, internships and building a strong pathway. We’re going to do it together.”

Read the Las Cruces Bulletin article.

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