SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico education officials are budgeting up to $10 million in pandemic relief money to create internships for high school students, while nonprofits and school districts are bringing back summer enrichment opportunities to meet rising demand.
As many as 2,600 students across New Mexico could participate in the internship program, according to the Public Education Department, which announced the program on Tuesday. The department started developing the program last year, and is in the process of hiring up to 150 part-time adult coordinators.
Seven tribal and 18 county governments have signed up to coordinate internships in their offices or at partner nonprofits, including summer camps.
“I think there’s a lot that they can do in our summer program setting,” said Colby Wilson, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Central New Mexico, which is planning on placing some of the interns through a partnership with county officials. “And it’s good for the high school kids to get that experience, just basic soft skills of showing up on time and working with a team and planning for different programs.”
Some parents are unsure about sending kids to group activities, and Wilson said registrations have been a little slower. Summer program signups coincide with a vaccine rollout for children aged 12 and up, and demand could return to normal. On Wednesday, state officials said that over 50,000 residents aged 12-18 registered for the vaccine during the first week of May.
A third of New Mexico children were not in a summer program in 2019 but would have enrolled if they could, according to a survey released Wednesday by America After 3PM and the Afterschool Alliance, indicating a gap in demand for as many as 100,000 children.
Responses came from 428 New Mexico households polled between January and March of 2020. Parents cited high costs and lack of transportation as barriers.
Other nonprofits are scaling up now.
“Now I’m fully going back in person," said Lina Germann, founder of STEM Santa Fe, which offers technology camps. And this time we have spots for 160 kids,” says STEM Santa Fe founder Lina Germann.
Child care centers are expected to return to full capacity after cutting half the spots last year, according to Early Childhood Education and Care Department spokesman Micah McCoy. They’re also expanding early literacy and school readiness programs this summer.
New Mexico officials say a big challenge will be providing rural summer programs.
“We are working with our out-of-school time network providers to try to make sure that we can (meet demand) — especially in those areas of the state where there aren’t established ecosystems for summer learning and summer enrichment,” said Education Secretary Ryan Stewart.
The Summer Enrichment Internship Program for high school students could help, especially with the many rural tribes and counties that have signed up to receive workers.
School districts will likely take the lead, after receiving over $1 billion in pandemic aid. At least 20% must be spent on helping students recover academically and socially in programs like summer school and camps, though they have a few years to spend the funds.
More than $200 million in state funds is also available for schools to add 10-25 learning days. But at least 18% of school districts will turn down most of the funds, according to a Public Education Department preliminary survey last month.
Some nonprofit leaders say they could better use the federal funds.
“Schools cannot do this on their own,” said May Sagbakken, New Mexico Out-of-School Time Network executive director.
She urged the state to move quickly to fund nonprofit summer programs so that parents can sign up, saying, “They can’t wait until June or July or May to plan that.”
Wilson said funding uncertainty stems from the late passage of federal funds, creating a domino effect of delays. His group is waiting for a response on grant applications with the state and Albuquerque Public Schools.
“Now everyone is scrambling to get this money to the right people,” Wilson said.
The Public Education Department says it’s aiming to ink contracts with partners by the end of May, meaning much of the intern hiring might not start until June — when Wilson said the club starts its summer program.
“That seems tough to me," Wilson said.
Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. Follow Attanasio on Twitter.