ABQ Journal MESA Op-Ed

November 11, 2009 - MESA Op-Ed Response.

The staggering low graduation rates of APS high school students are sad and disappointing; there must be a change. As Dr. Ben Laime suggested in his recent letter to the editor, many of these students may be bored with traditional high school curriculum and looking for something more specialized. Programs that prepare students for a lifetime career in one of the trades could be just the cure our high schools need.

Preparing high school students for a trade that requires an apprenticeship will not only provide meaningful education to students, but also help to elevate the trades themselves with experts in every field. As any plumber, pipefitter, electrician or sheet metal worker will tell you, satisfying careers in the trades require a strong foundation of experience, knowledge and determination. Providing our young people with this foundation earlier in life will prepare them for success, while preventing many unnecessary dropouts.

The pursuit of a four-year college degree as the only “worthwhile” educational pursuit is dangerous and is often to the detriment of the very students struggling to achieve a high school diploma. Every student is designed to succeed in different ways, some through an apprenticeship or two year associates degree, and some through a four-year degree program.

There is a great need for highly qualified, dedicated workers in construction trades of all sorts. We need these workers to build the HVAC systems that provide air and heat to our hospitals, the electrical systems that light the hallways of our schools, and the intricate maze of pipes supplying the kitchens and bathrooms in our homes. 

We need to make the changes required to offer our students options in school, rather than continuing to watch them fail. Positive first steps have been made, with the passing of Senate Bill 46, largely as a result of the efforts of the Mechanical, Electrical and Sheet Metal Alliance (MESA) – a group of construction trade business associations and their respective labor unions that partnered to promote the building trades and generate more interest in apprentice programs.

Pre-apprenticeship Bill 46 was passed and signed by Governor Richardson and will soon be implemented throughout New Mexico high schools. The bill was developed to offer eleventh and twelfth grade students the opportunity to explore trades, earn elective credits toward high school graduation and meet requirements for apprenticeship-related supplemental instruction or post-secondary education course credits. Pre-apprenticeship courses will be taught by industry experts, giving students hands-on, real-life experience, resulting in a solid foundation and direction upon graduation. It is my hope that our educators, trade industry leaders, students and parents embrace programs like these, ensuring more options for the success of our youth.

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