ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Health Leadership High School in southeast Albuquerque is one of 20 New Mexico schools that are now considered an Innovation Zone. More than $4 million in state money will be allocated to these schools to rethink the traditional high school experience and transform it in a way to boost graduation rates and better prepare students for college life and the workforce.

Health Leadership will receive almost half a million dollars. That will not only help fund programs, a new lab, and more equipment for the school but that money will be used to pay students. Starting this fall, students will be paid all four years to take classes and learn in the field. They believe this will not only help future shortages in the health industry but improve graduation rates too.

“When students can actually see the impact of what they’re doing, added to with, I actually get paid while I’m trying this out, I think that’s a huge, huge incentive for them to want to engage,” Meg Tokunaga-Scanlon, the Director of Curriculum Instruction and Assessment at Health Leadership High School said.

Students will be paid more than minimum wage at $12.50 an hour.

“Because a lot of our students take care of their families and sometimes a breadwinner, significant breadwinner in their family, this helps so much. I think that’s a huge component, we wanna support families and know that it’s not just easy to ‘I can just go to an internship after school’ and so we really want to embed that in our school day,” Tokunaga-Scanlon said.

The Public Education Department says students who participate in a project-based school, see a 97% graduation rate. PED believes it’s not only beneficial for the students to work in the community, but for local organizations too.

“Students are getting paid to work in businesses and that partnership, with the placement and where the students are actually working, is an opportunity and an open door for businesses to see that there is a way into the high school,” Dr. Elaine Perea, the Director of College and Career Readiness Bureau within PED said.

The chosen schools are from districts in Alamogordo, Aztec, Hatch Valley, Hobbs, Las Cruces, Rio Rancho, Silver City, and Zuni. There are two charter schools in Albuquerque.