ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The incoming and outgoing New Mexico education secretaries on Wednesday launched the fall semester with appearances at a high school pep rally packed with around 1,000 mask-wearing teenagers.
Ahead of the event, students talked and hugged. One friend jumped into another’s arms.
Inside, the students participated in a chant session with the principal and with Kurt Steinhaus, who will become public education secretary next week after Ryan Stewart leaves the post.
“Show up, it matters,” Steinhaus said, leading the chant of the same phrase at Highland High School in Albuquerque.
Stewart waved to students from the gym floor and filmed a flag-waving band performance on his phone.
Steinhaus faces the immediate challenge of keeping children in New Mexico’s public school system after enrollment dropped about 4% last year.
Statistics show that the state’s growth in homeschooling drove the enrollment decline amid high demand for teen workers across the U.S. A resurgence of the COVID-19 virus threatens to keep enrollment down.
Statewide, 40% of youth ages 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated. That’s far lower than the 65% inoculation rate among New Mexico’s adults.
Albuquerque Public Schools promoted vaccines to parents and students and hosted clinics on campuses this spring and summer, but many students still don’t have shots.