What do you really want to learn?

Inspire Santa Fe begins with that question. Working with teachers, counselors and families across the city, we ask young people to identify a field or skill they would like to explore—not as a job or college application booster, but as a natural, deep calling.

We’re often surprised by the longings they harbor. They tell us they want to learn oil painting, mountaineering, criminal law, architecture, and soccer. They want to know how to blow glass, code computers, and fight for environmental justice.

Once the youth “protégé” has identified a field, we find an adult volunteer who has expertise and talent in that area, and is willing to work with the young person for two hours a week for six to eight months. Together, the mentor and protégé develop a learning relationship and create project to share publicly with the community.

It’s a new approach to education, but a familiar way to learn. People have been learning through mentorships centuries before the first school bell rang, and continue learning this way in shops, homes, studios and businesses. Inspire lifts up these natural learning and teaching relationships, and formalize them so they offer a balance to the conventional classroom learning predominant in schools.

Inspire’s model draws heavily on the work of two master educators. The overarching program structure and philosophy were developed by Paquita Hernandez, founder of two mentorship learning programs in New Mexico: CelebrateYouth! and the still vibrant Mentorship Program at Monte del Sol Charter School in Santa Fe. The re-orienting framework for the program and alternative paths to learning as “school-outside-of-school,” the creation of a citywide festival of learning to honor and celebrate this type of learning, and critical new program elements that enliven the learning of the mentors themselves, have been added to the model by Aaron Stern, founder and president of the Academy for the Love of Learning.

To create and facilitate Inspire Santa Fe, Aaron and his Academy have joined in partnership with a newly revived educational non-profit, SEED: Source for Educational Empowerment and Community Development.  Under the leadership of Todd Lopez, a Santa Fe native, SEED holds key pieces of Inspire Santa Fe, including the relationships with the schools and protégé families, identification and screening of mentors, and oversight of the mentorships.

Funding for Inspire comes from the City of Santa Fe, private foundations, and the local business community.