Albuquerque has a low graduation rate. Students may drop out due to economic pressures, academic deficiencies, unmet needs, or lack of relevancy. Meanwhile, New Mexico often does not have enough skilled workers for key industries. The challenge was to create a high school that could meet the needs of students and provide relevant curriculum and instruction while producing graduates ready to take on skilled jobs in key industries.
Through a partnership with Associated General Contractors of New Mexico, ACE (Architecture, Construction, and Engineering) Leadership High School was created to produce graduates who are interested and prepared to become part of the construction industry, which is so vital to the economy of Albuquerque and New Mexico. In addition to completing courses, each student works to develop a solid reputation, community network, and extensive resume that can be presented to potential employers.
The Association of Builders and Contractors has a clear vision of what is needed in its workforce. The workers and future leaders of the industry need to be problem-solvers who work collaboratively. They need solid skills in reading, writing, and mathematics. They need to be skilled communicators who can listen and speak clearly. Finally, they need to have a great reputation and a solid work ethic. This is very different than the traditional skills-based vocational training that has been the staple of workforce development for decades. ACE is based on a new model of workforce development created by New Mexico’s Leadership High School Network. The ACE curriculum is structured around project-based learning. Students are continually supported in developing their basic skills. Throughout their time at ACE, students work to develop their resumes and reputations so they will be ready to assume important positions within the construction industry.
Many students at ACE come with personal challenges that create barriers to learning and progress. The school recognizes this and provides a wide variety of supports to ensure students can keep moving forward. There is a medical clinic on-site and a student support center where students can receive counseling from a staff of social workers. The school offers a flexible schedule so that students can take classes during the day or in the evening to accommodate personal needs to work or care for children.
The biggest indicator of success at ACE is that industry leaders seek out the school's graduates to work for them. After just a couple of graduating classes, this is happening. Graduation rates of ACE students are higher than similar populations in other Albuquerque public schools.
ACE is working with the University of New Mexico to quantify the learning of students. It is challenging, for example, to demonstrate the professional behavior of building a reputation.