Pay It 4ward: Man thanked for helping Santa Fe students gain real-world experiences

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For many New Mexico teens, there’s a decision between going to school and getting a job that pays the bills.

But the folks up at Santa Fe Public Schools believe there’s a way to do both. Their work-based learning program exploded in popularity this past summer, and officials say it’s all because of one man.

“If you talk to some of the students that are in his program, he brings out the greatness within them, and he allows them to see what they’re capable of,” said Peter McWain, executive director of Santa Fe Public Schools’ curriculum and instruction.  

Officials with SFPS say Jose Villarreal joined the district in 2022 with a vision to give high school students some real-world opportunities. 

“Jose had the idea that we could start an intern mentorship program, with the intention of putting students back into the workforce before they even graduate,” said Jason Grinage, a Pay It 4ward nominator.  

The program launched last summer with 20 students spread out across four local businesses. 

One year later, there are a 100 students working at more than 40 businesses and government offices.

Officials say career experience is not the only benefit.

“When we were talking to students after the pandemic of why some students were making the decision not to attend school regularly. Their answers were, you know, they pull at your heartstrings. A lot of our students choose to go to work, and so that created a problem that perhaps Jose found an elegant solution to,” said McWain. 

A solution they say is changing lives. 

“It does have that ripple effect that spreads out into the community and beyond. So we’re excited to see where we go from here,” said Grinage. 

But not before some well-earned recognition.

Watch the video above for more.