Louise Williams, of PED’s College and Career Readiness Bureau, presents Coordinator Brent Collom with LAECCA’s Early College High School certification. Courtesy/LAPS
Mentors met with students in the LAECCA program to offer support and networking opportunities. Courtesy/LAPS
The Los Alamos Early College and Career Academy (LAECCA) recently received its official Early College High School certification from the College and Career Readiness Bureau of New Mexico’s Public Education Department.
This certification is the culmination of 13 months of work to obtain this designation.
“The recognition of our Early College and Career Academy allows LAHS students to take an accelerated path toward a certificate from UNM- LA while earning their high school diploma,” said Carter Payne, principal at Los Alamos High School.
Targeted advisement and specialized academic counseling enable LAECCA students to take classes for dual credit through UNM-LA and LAHS above and beyond those available through the typical dual credit guidelines. Students focus on one of four pathways: Electro-Mechanical Technologies, Business Marketing, Robotics and Emergency Medical Services.
According to LAECCA Coordinator, Brent Collom, “LAECCA graduates will be more employable with their college credentials than students with only a high school diploma.”
The coursework students take toward their certificates may also be applied towards requirements for associate’s and bachelor’s degrees.
In addition to partnering with UNM-LA to provide college level courses and certifications, the program also partners with employers such as Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce to provide students with the opportunity to network and make connections. Workforce partners provide a spectrum of work-based learning experiences, and open their workplace world to students through tours, speakers and mentorships.
The concept of an early college program took shape in the spring of 2013 when Los Alamos Public Schools received a grant from PED to form LAECCA. Early college high school programs are designed to help students earn college credentials while completing high school coursework for a diploma. Students who participate in the program will graduate with highly marketable skills and a jumpstart on college completion. Research shows that students who take college classes while in high school are more likely to begin and finish college on-time.
LAECCA began recruiting potential students by collaborating with UNM-LA to host a series of career exploration camps beginning in the summer of 2014. The first LAECCA cohort began that fall with support from school counselor Cristin Haake and teacher Robyn Ladino. Students begin with an introductory course, Accelerated College and Career Readiness, in 9th grade. This class prepares them for college-level work and supports career development through guest speakers and service learning projects. Each subsequent cohort has included 15 to 20 early college students.
In the summer of 2016, the joint boards of Los Alamos Public Schools and UNM-LA established a study committee to clarify the expectations of LAECCA. With the input of educators, employers and county councilors, three certificate pathways were established:
Business Marketing, Electro-Mechanical Technologies and Emergency Medical Technician.
Collom reflects, “Our work with the 2016 study committee to define the program was invaluable in completing the application process two years later.”
In the spring of 2018, PED invited schools to submit applications to become designated as early college high schools. The application process included the creation of partnerships with employers in the community; clearly outlined program pathways; and outreach to underrepresented groups such as first generation college students and students with disabilities. LAECCA team members worked with workforce and higher education partners for two months before submitting the application for designation June 28, 2018.
Clarification and additional information was requested by PED and submitted in the fall of 2018 before the designation was awarded.
Up next for LAECCA is adding a mentoring facet to the program. Pairing students with mentors in students’ fields of interest will provide support and encouragement while students pursue their college credentials and establish networking opportunities to benefit students in the workplace. The first mentoring meeting was held on Thursday, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. While the initial plan was to meet twice a semester, the students and mentors may meet more often as suggested during this first gathering.
LAECCA also is considering other program pathways such as nursing and welding to provide more options for early college students.