Opportunity fair aims to bring students back to school, job training

Juno Ogle Photo

Mike Espiritu, president of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp., left, and Jennifer Cole, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at Roswell Independent School District, talk with Christy Loftin, career coach with New Mexico Workforce Connection, at the Meet the Moment Opportunity Fair on Tuesday at the Administrative and Educational Services Complex, 300 N. Kentucky Ave. The school district designed the event to attract students who had been dropped from enrollment back into school or into training programs.

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A reenrollment fair Tuesday was the first of its kind for Roswell Independent School District and, although it attracted less than a dozen former students, organizers hope to have another to help kids get back in school.

Representatives of RISD’s middle and high schools were on hand Tuesday afternoon in a training room of the Administrative and Educational Services Complex, 300 N. Kentucky Ave., to help students who were dropped from enrollment get back into school at the Meet the Moment Opportunity Fair.

Under state law, more than 300 students were dropped from RISD’s enrollment in the fall 2021 semester due to being absent for 10 consecutive days with no contact with the district.

The goal of the fair is to get as many of those students as possible back into classes so they can get their diplomas, but Jennifer Cole, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at RISD, said the district knows that’s not necessarily the best path for some students.

Some of those students dropped out because they took on jobs to help support their families, Laura Macias, RISD attendance liaison, said.

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Cole reported at a meeting at the beginning of the month on attendance that 81 of the students who were dropped were age 18 or older.

Even younger students can feel like they have fallen so far behind they might never catch up, Cole said.

To help those former students, RISD brought in several community partners who provide alternative education or job training, such as Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell, New Mexico Workforce Connections, New Mexico Youth Challenge Academy and Job Corps.

“Not everybody fits into one little box. The main point is we’re all a part of this community and we’re going to do the very best for our community,” Cole said.

A community effort to help kids finish their education is exactly what is needed, Mike Espiritu, president of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corp., said as he dropped by at the beginning of the fair.

“For me, it’s about getting kids where they should be and help create that workforce for tomorrow,” he said.

That future workforce will include the aviation industry, such as Ascent Aviation Services, which just broke ground on a wide-body aircraft hangar at Roswell Air Center. The Arizona-based company plans to expand its maintenance, repair and overhaul operations here, needing about 100 employees in its first year. The company has said it will need as many as 360 employees in five years.

Ascent and similar companies that are already at the air center, such as CAVU Aerospace, look for employees who have at least a high school diploma, Espiritu said.

“They don’t necessarily need an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree. They’ll take students that have a willingness to work, that want to learn, want to be successful,” he said.

Those still in high school or who have recently graduated can find apprenticeships and other programs that will not only let them finish their education but even get paid while training for work, Espiritu said.

New Mexico Workforce Connection and Roswell Job Corp Center have such programs, their representatives said. Both serve those ages 16 to 24.

“We’re trying to help anybody that’s struggling with school. Anybody that needs an alternative option to their education, we are a good fit,” Candy Nunez, enrollment specialist with Roswell Job Corps, said.

Students in Job Corps can live on campus with free room and board, and can earn a paycheck during their education, she said. They have about 25 students and are accepting more right now, she said.

Job Corps has programs in trades such as building construction, electrical and automotive services. It also partners with Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell to offer programs.

Workforce Connections offers a $500 incentive to those who earn their GED and pays for the testing costs, Christy Loftin, a career coach with the organization, said.

“We then help if they are looking at going into the workforce for employment skills. Those that are transitioning to college, we help with their applications, help them fill out their federal financial aid forms,” she said.

Workforce Connection doesn’t cover tuition costs, but can help with books and other needs, such as tools for an aviation mechanics program or transportation to classes or training programs, she said.

Workforce Connection is also offering low-cost short-term training sessions in areas such as basic employability skills, computer skills, alcohol servers certification and entrepreneurial skills.

Also at the fair were Chaves County Court Appointed Special Advocates, La Casa Family Health Center, and New Mexico Division Vocational Rehabilitation, which assists people with disabilities in job training.

Cole said the school district will likely have another opportunity fair later this spring and will likely continue the fairs in future years.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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