Paid Internships Propel Albuquerque Youth


Albuquerque struggles with low graduation rates and, with the pandemic, students who were already frustrated at school are now more in danger of tuning out and dropping out.

It’s likely that the rate of disconnected youth (not in school and not employed) has jumped nationally and especially in Albuquerque.

When the pandemic hit in March, Future Focused Education, an Albuquerque school support organization quickly adapted its successful X3 program (i.e., Explore Experience, Expand) to include virtual paid internship placements with local employers.

The program offers trade certifications, college credit, and fulfills graduation requirements— along with a paid stipend. The virtual X3 program is embedded in the online curriculum at the high schools FFE supports. It features one-on-one mentorship with local employers that keeps students engaged and accountable.

Internships Change Lives

Liset dropped out of high school at 15, had a child, and worked at a fast food restaurant for $10 an hour. At 21, it was her dream to be the first in her family to graduate with a high school diploma and move into the health professions.

FFE helped Liset secure a paid internship which not only helped her graduate from high school but led to a full-time job. Liset recently finished a degree at Central New Mexico Community College and works for the largest healthcare provider in the state.

Future Focused Education (FFE) supports six Albuquerque high schools, as well as schools in Santa Fe and other cities. Most serve as a second chance for learners not successful in a traditional setting. They focus on learning by doing, community engagement, and student support.

The 12-year-old nonprofit launched by Tony Monfiletto serves a two-sided market that provides real-life career experience for young people and a talent pipeline for employers–it’s mutually beneficial on both sides.

Real-life experience is of primary importance and core to what they believe is not only relevant experience but an equalizer in providing opportunity. Monfiletto believes that this “changes the value proposition for the employer, they can influence what kids are experiencing.”

Every learner at the six schools has the opportunity to work in a paid internship either during the summer or during the school year. To date, FFE has facilitated over 240 paid internships and has paid out over $250,000 in wages.

Future Focused makes internships easy for businesses by providing job-ready training and insurance. But it wasn’t easy when the pandemic hit to maintain all the internships. With some fast work by Director of Workforce Learning Mike May and the team, they transitioned to virtual and hybrid internships.

“In our current pandemic world, large groups of students are not coming to school anymore and the communities can’t tolerate this,” Monifiletto added. “We also have to give learners a reason to stay in school, we had to adapt.”

Health Leadership High, one of the schools Future Focused supports, is not just a talent pipeline for health providers they train young people to advocate for a healthier community. As a public health emergency, Monfiletto realized the pandemic could provide valuable problem-solving opportunities for students, “We have all these students that have been studying health, let’s get them involved.”

They lined up a hospital to provide COVID training to students who joined project teams working on community health solutions–again, mutually beneficial. Engaging youth in building health solutions for the community also cuts down on transmission rates by young people.

Future Focused also works with Tech Leadership High School, ACE Leadership High, a school focused on construction trades, and Siembra Leadership High School, an entrepreneurship-focused school.

Internships were important to youth development pre-pandemic. The virtual and hybrid paid internships facilitated by FFE are a lifeline of opportunity for Albuquerque youth today.

For more on Future Focused Education and the schools it supports, see:

Stay in-the-know with innovations in learning by signing up for the weekly Smart Update.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Discover the latest in learning innovations

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

1 Comment


Glad to see this well-deserved coverage of the impactful work of Future Focused Education. We at Big Picture Learning ( are heartened that the internship management system that we developed, ImBlaze ( has proven to be useful and helpful undergirding technology for the successful implementation, growth, spread/scale of internships in Albequerque and beyond!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.