Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
For 12 years, The Bridge of Southern New Mexico has been in the business of innovation, piloting, proving, and then seeking to embed what works into policy to benefit others for the long-term, as well as setting the stage for achieving greater scale statewide.
Founded by a group of community leaders in business, economic development, education, and government, The Bridge has strategically worked to build relationships, programs, and literal “bridges” between educational institutions, workforce providers, and employers in Doña Ana County.
As a partner in very early work that led to what is now Ngage and the Success Partnership, The Bridge has been laser-focused on the high school-to-college-to-career portion of the prenatal-to-career continuum.
Through our Board of Directors and the committed group of partners in the Workforce Talent Collaborative, our goal all along has been to ensure that our young people and families have access to a connected set of educational institutions, partners, and resources in what we consider our “ecosystem of opportunity.”
We started with an intention of increasing high school graduation rates and building a skilled and ready workforce. We later added college completion to those goals, as our county’s graduation rate skyrocketed from a dismal 49% in 2007 to consistently more than 80% for the past several years.
The heart of the “success” of The Bridge’s work lies in our county’s unique ability to collaborate across diverse audiences, ranging from public and private sectors and political parties to racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds. Our ability to sit around the table as equals and peers, honoring the wisdom and experience of all, has allowed us to work in unity as a community, putting a student in the center of the room and answering the question, “What do we need to do to ensure that student succeeds?”
The answers to that question have been many, including several “firsts” for New Mexico: Early College High Schools increased access to Dual Credit courses, alignment between Career and Technical Education and local industries, Career Pathways, Blended Senior Year, Teacher Externships, multiple approaches for employer engagement in work-based learning, Industry Roundtables, increasing information about local industries and careers, and far more than can be contained in this article.
I’m a firm believer that “success begets success” in New Mexico. It requires courage and conviction to try new things, taking a risk that something may not work. BUT…if it does, you’ve built a model that can be replicated by others. And now, we are seeing the fruits of our labor come to fruition in state policy, which ensures our innovations will be sustained.
Just a few examples:
- 20 Early College High Schools statewide
- Career and Technical Education funding is now spent specifically in support of high-value, in-demand careers in every region of the state
- Some (not yet enough) state funding for “high-value” Dual Credit courses that the New Mexico Higher Education Department prioritizes be in Early College High Schools, CTE pathways, or well-aligned to college skill-based credentials or degrees
- The Public Education Department’s new Strategic Plan calls for “a culture of college and career readiness” and specific actions to support Career Pathways, Teacher Externships, adequately-funded Dual Credit, work-based learning, and employer partnerships with schools
- More funding and better governance for Workforce Connections services in Doña Ana County after years of underfunding, poor outcomes, and poor leadership
- Workforce development efforts targeted specifically to building talent for the industries identified for economic development here
- Challenging the status quo of the state’s Workforce System in light of historic underperformance with a plan for restructuring to make the way for better coordination and use of funds to help more New Mexicans who need the help
- The NM Department of Workforce Solution’s All Hands New Mexico! program to make workforce services easier for businesses to access
- Career-connected learning that exponentially increases students’ awareness of high-wage, high-demand, high-value career choices available statewide through the Pathway2Careers curriculum
- The Thriving Families programs launched by the Community Action Agency of Southern New Mexico to comprehensively help single-parent families access education and employment
As the Success Partnership would suggest, it takes many partners to build a successful prenatal-to-career continuum. To all of our partners, funders, leaders, teachers, families, and most of all, students who have been a part of this amazing success story, thank you!
By Tracey Bryan
The Bridge of Southern New Mexico