Lincoln Middle School students enjoy meeting Puzzles, a Watermelon Mountain Ranch resident, during an assembly celebrating the Houses for Hounds program. LMS students are learning math and construction skills by building doghouses for the no-kill shelter and dogs like Puzzles. Photo by Gary Herron.

Although the plan is to introduce more career-technical job pathways into Rio Rancho high schools, Lincoln Middle School eighth-graders will get a jump on those upperclassmen, thanks to “Houses for Hounds.”

It’s a pilot project made possible by a group of partners: Rio Rancho Public Schools’ Career-Technical Education, Central New Mexico Community College (CNM), Jaynes Corporation and Associated Builders and Contractors Inc.

So, who doesn’t like dogs? (Cats?) Naturally, middle school students like dogs and maybe, through this new program, will learn to love — or at least understand — math.

“We want to get you excited about math,” said Samantha Sengel, CNM vice president of enrollment strategy and advancement. “You’ll get to use your hands to change the world. CNM is a place where you can learn those skills. … You’re gonna have a great time.”

Three homerooms at LMS, totaling a few dozen eighth-graders, will soon start building doghouses — about 15 or so — and donate them to Watermelon Mountain Ranch, the no-kill animal shelter in Sandoval County.

Puzzles, a three-legged dog residing at Watermelon Mountain Ranch, stands alone during an assembly celebrating the Houses for Hounds program at Lincoln Middle School. Photo by Gary Herron.

With the project powered and funded by CNM, RRPS educators and administrators are hopeful of expanding interest in CTE programs.

“Houses for Hounds” — the name LMS students came up with — will enable the doghouse-building students to use their existing math curriculum while gaining a hands-on education in the art of construction. CNM instructor Denise Ojeda will be the lead instructor, providing plans for the doghouses.

Paul Lockhart, CTE coordinator for RRPS, told the Jan. 31 gathering in the old LMS gymnasium that trades are well-paying and respectable careers — and, ultimately, create job-ready students to entice businesses and economic growth in the area.

Later, Sengel queried, “This is coming from industry: What are we going to do to fill the pipeline?”

“The workforce is getting older,” said Sam Hatchell of Jaynes Corp.

If successful and additional funding becomes available, the program will expand to the district’s three other middle schools, Lockhart said.