BELENNo matter what stage of life you’re in, taking next steps can be intimidating.  

Now high school students across Valencia County and New Mexico can try out a variety of technical careers and skilled trades through augmented and virtual reality simulators without fear of making the “wrong” choice. 

The Be Pro, Be Proud program and its technology is contained in a mobile workshop — a specialized truck — made a stop at Belen High School in February, the second county high school to host the workshop and let students explore careers ranging from heavy equipment operation, welding, powerline services and health care. The mobile unit made its debut at Los Lunas High School and has made stops at Infinity and Valencia high schools. 

New Mexico is the sixth state in the nation to launch a BPBP program and the first to undertake it as a public-private partnership. The program was launched by The New Mexico Center for Economic Opportunity and the education, charitable and research foundation of the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.  

Julia M. Dendinger | News-Bulletin photos
Be Pro, Be Proud New Mexico ambassador Jacqueline Sanchez, left, a sophomore at Belen High School, helps another BHS student with the excavator simulator during a recent visit from the BPBP mobile workshop.

During the BHS visit, LeTicia Montez, tour manager for BPBP New Mexico told students there will be about 12,000 people a day turning 65 in 2024 in the United States. According to research by the Retirement Income Institute, 2024 starts off a wave of more than four million retirements a year, which is projected to last through 2027. 

With that many people reaching potential retirement age, there will be large gaps left in the workforce, Montez said.  

“We want to fill the seats behind us. We’re getting old. You don’t want me out there on the road, driving a semi or dangling from a power line,” she said, drawing a chuckle from the group of 30 students touring the workshop. 

Freshman Alyssa Saiz said the VR and AR experience “has definitely given me a lot more ideas to think about.” 

More than 400 Belen High School students explored a variety of technical careers and skilled trades using augmented and virtual reality simulators during a recent visit from the Be Pro, Be Proud New Mexico mobile workshop.

A student ambassador for the event, sophomore Jacqueline Sanchez said volunteering to help with the visit was a lot of fun but she couldn’t narrow down a favorite among the various VR and AR stations. 

“I thought I knew what I wanted to do, but now I’m not sure,” Sanchez said. “I’m leaning towards computer programming or health care.” 

Sanchez is one of many BHS students who are taking advantage of the school’s career and technical educational pathways and certifications. She is on track to finish a certificate as a computer tech assistant, which will allow her to build, fix and trouble shoot computers. 

Even before the BPBP trailer parked at the BHS Career Academy, the school has placed an emphasis on CTE and preparing students for not only college after high school but entering the workforce.  

The high school has more than a dozen pathways, ranging from information technology to film, that will move students through the steps needed for professional certification in various fields. 

“Instead of various electives, the classes are aligned into pathways that lead to certifications,” said BHS Principal Sonia Lawson. “That focus has put us at the top for college and career readiness in Vistas (the New Mexico Public Education Department’s newest school evaluation tool).” 

In Vistas, high schools are awarded credit when students participate and succeed in college and career readiness activities. This measures the percent of high school students who have participated in and achieved a passing grade in college and career courses established in the state’s high school model.  

BHS was at an 89 percent of its students participating and succeeding in CCR activities in 2022 and increased to 96 percent in 2023, out pacing all the other high schools in the county. 

RaeCee Vallejos, the BHS sophomore class councilor and a licensed mental health councilor, was one of the staff members who helped bring the BPBP program to campus. During the mobile workshop, about 450 students were able to explore various CTE oriented careers through the VR and AR stations.  

“I think it really starts with the mindset we have at BHS. We don’t want our description of success to be in a box. There’s not one, all encompassing definition of success,” Vallejos said. “Norms and expectations have created a false belief that success looks one way — the college driven route.  

“Sometimes a students passion and skills doesn’t necessarily go on that route. Success isn’t always linear.” 

Vallejos said the school wants to have a pathway to success for students with tracking points, which the CTE program allows for. 

“Do you want to be a welder? Rather than going into the welding industry, the pathway opens up a million job opportunities. The pathways have specific mile markers and class instruction connected to them.  

“This allows students to move toward a genre of career opportunities. They can enhance the skills they have and are passionate about and take them in the direction of a career they’re passionate about.” 

One of the most popular simulators in the Be Pro, Be Proud New Mexico mobile workshop was taking a semi truck out on the open road.

Having the BPBP program on campus, Vallejos said it hopefully inspired some students to explore different pathways and allowed them to gain knowledge about possible career paths.  

“They displayed real excitement. This is not about trying to find job opportunities. This is helping them navigate toward a full and happy life,” she said. “I’m not trying to help a kid find a job. I want to know what gets their gears going, what gets them excited. 

“What do they find inspiring and motivating? This has hopefully helped them better understand who that are, what inspires them. If this changed the mindset of one student, that’s good enough for me.” 

For more information about BPBP, visit 

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.