AZTEC, N.M. (KRQE) – School districts in New Mexico are starting to offer paid internships to students in hopes of helping them jumpstart their careers after graduation. The schools are working with local businesses to offer internships, but the money to pay students is coming from the state.

Betty Harris is a junior at Vista Nueva High School in Aztec, New Mexico, and is part of “Innovation Zones” – a new program that allows students to explore careers through paid internships. Harris has always been interested in working with horses. Her internship has helped her learn more about the career path she wants to pursue. “It’s opened my eyes a lot on the horse world, and more into the breeding, and the little things and the details that I didn’t really know, and I’ve got to learn about the horses’ natural behavior,” said Harris.

Dreher Robertson, the principal at Vista Nueva High School, says Aztec Municipal School District is one of nine New Mexico School Districts that received a grant from the state’s education department. “So the idea is that the student needs 240 hours and two different experiences at work base learning to graduate from Vista Nueva,” says Robertson.   

Career Technical Director Cory Gropp says in Aztec, only Vista Nueva High School has launched the program so far, but the plan is to expand to Aztec High School. “We are rolling out the program with internships with Vista Nueva because the student population is a lot lower than Aztec. And so we can work out our policies, procedures, and all that, and then we’re going to roll it out to Aztec School in the fall with Vista Nueva as well,” says Gropp.

The partnership with local businesses enables students to explore different career paths, from welding to working in the medical field. The grant money means the businesses do not have to come up with the cash to pay the students.

Of course, there are some limitations when it comes to where students can intern. “We cannot have students work with police officers because the risk is just too high, and we cannot have students work with mental health professionals because of confidentiality,” says Robertson.

Students get paid $12.50 per hour, made possible by a grant of more than $700,000 for the district. The grant is expected to last three years and the district is now incorporating the program into its graduation requirements.