“We went through each transition point to see where there was a smooth handoff,” says LeBlanc. “Early childhood or K through eight, for instance, who are the people there? We looked at eighth grade and high school graduation. What are the supports for transitions there?”
The team continued to visualize the supports that existed beyond high school, identifying the Taos Education and Career Center as a place for high school equivalency degrees and adult learning, as well as the community organizations that serve to support those students. They identified the University of New Mexico’s Taos campus as the four-year institution. “Then,” LeBlanc says, “We stalled out.” In short, the options grew more and more limited as students progressed. What were the other ways students might pursue postsecondary education without leaving Taos? “It was sort of an eye-opener,” says LeBlanc.
As the TEC continues its work, its next step is to gather partners around each transition point and ask “what the collaborative is uniquely poised to do in our community that doesn’t replicate what is already here,” LeBlanc says. As it does so, the team is making the most of CivicLab’s teachings and other resources. “There are times when I look at [the system-building materials] and I think, ‘wow this is amazing, can we actually do this?’” LeBlanc says. “But you can see the potential of it, and then there is this moment of ‘whoa.’”
The team frequently draws on the ready technical expertise and thought partnership of the CivicLab facilitators – what LeBlanc calls an “overall wraparound of support.” Likewise, TEC has learned much from their fellow cohort members across the nation; the Florida team, for instance, shared helpful advice on how to track down school drop-outs and other disengaged individuals. “It helps to see how they tackle their problems,” says LeBlanc. “They can tell us what they did that worked and what they did that didn’t work.”
LeBlanc finds benefit simply in connecting with other rural communities over common challenges and goals. For one thing, she says, “We don’t have to explain rurality. It’s so awesome not to have to explain the limitations – and joys – of being in a rural community to other folks.” At the same time, she welcomes the support and advice from her fellow team leaders. “I’ve been a leader of a school, but trying to be a leader in my community is a little scarier in a whole lot of ways,” says LeBlanc. “So having other people who are also stepping into that role is hugely helpful.”
LeBlanc likes to illustrate the work of the TEC with a photograph of Taos’s Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. At 650 feet above the river, it is the second highest bridge in the U.S. interstate highway system and the fifth highest in the country overall. When the highway segment on one side sat unfinished in the 1960s, it was known as the “bridge to nowhere.” Today it ties together regions across the state -- and draws visitors from around the world.
The Taos Education Collaborative wants to serve as that kind of link – forging the vital community connections that will take the young people of Taos wherever in life they want to go.
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