By Kelly Ettenborough
Jeff Dinges described himself as a teenager from a troubled home, with no expectations of graduating, until he was given the key to the greenhouse at Peoria High School.
“I lived in apartment complexes in Phoenix. I had to move out from my family and live with friends and relatives,” he says. “I thought I was going to let my teacher down to be honest.”
As a freshman, he was put in charge of hydroponics. By his senior year, he was in charge of the nursery and greenhouse in the Peoria Unified School District, all 1.5 acres of it.
Career and Technical Education (CTE) in high school not only gave Jeff a head start on life; it changed his life. Today, at 25, he is a gardener and greenhouse tour guide at Universal Orlando Resort after an internship at Walt Disney World. He is training to be an arborist and is two classes away from finishing a bachelor’s degree in agricultural sciences from the University of Arizona.
Career and Technical Education during high school offers students the opportunity to explore interests and begin real world experience to prepare for their future careers.
“It doesn’t even feel like you are in class,” Jeff says. “You study academics and I hated math. But then it relates to your career so when you are measuring capacity at the greenhouse, it’s the Pythagorean theorem.”
That’s the point, says Dr. Patti Beltram, director of Career Services for the Peoria Unified School District’s award-winning program.
“CTE educates the whole child—the head, the heart and hands—through its approach. All students need post-secondary education; CTE can help with the right level—industry certification, associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree. We don’t want them just going to work. We want them going to their passion,” she says. “I believe that Career and Technical Education is one of the solutions for the future as well as the Arizona economy.”
On a state level, the Arizona Department of Education offers certifications, performance measures and guidelines for Career and Technical Education. The goal is to support the future workforce and prepare students for success and continuous learning. This combines academics with vocational skills and real-life experience to both prepare for careers and explore careers.
“It’s our vision that Career and Technical Education in Arizona adds so much value to the lives of its citizens and the state’s economy that every parent and student considers it an indispensable part of a quality comprehensive education,” says Dan Brown, state director and deputy associate superintendent for Career and Technical Education in Arizona.
School districts throughout the state offer different programs and courses. In the Peoria Unified School District, 75 percent of high school students take at least one CTE course, and about 1,000 high school students have internships or work-based learning opportunities related to future careers each year. Offerings range from Fire Science and Nursing to Building Trades and Automotive Technology.
The Chandler Unified School District offers programs that range from Photo Imaging and Software Development to Engineering and Cabinetmaking.
In the Paradise Valley Unified School District, CTE courses include Magazine Production, Forensics/Public Safety, Culinary Arts and more. Students in the Mesa Unified School District can benefit from Construction, Engineering, Welding, Software Development and a range of other offerings.
Often students earn certifications and college credit in high school, too. For example, students in the Child Development program can take the Child Development Associate credentialing test in high school, which gives them 12 college credits toward an associate’s degree in early childhood development.
Nick Coury, an Ironwood High School graduate and Phoenix resident, started at Arizona State University with 70 transferable credit hours after being in the Finance and Information Technology CTE programs. In four years, he completed three bachelor’s degrees in math, economics and computer science.
He’s 26 and chief technology officer of Aravaipa Running with his brother, Jamil Coury, the company’s CEO. They put on custom, trail and ultra running and running events in Arizona and the company uses Nick’s custom electronic timing system to do it.
“I was set up to succeed in college and then in business,” he says. “I always knew I wanted to run a business with my brothers, but I didn’t know what business. I knew I needed to be prepared, and when it came time, I was prepared.”
The connection between the business world and education made the difference for Nicole Schuur, who also attended Peoria High School for the fashion design program. She will graduate this month from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles, Calif., and she hopes her part-time position in a clothing design company will turn into a full-time job.
“The teachers aren’t just teachers. They are in the industry,” she explains. “It also gave me a business foundation and the opportunity to explore. It’s definitely motivating.”
Jeff’s dream is to return to Arizona and teach agriculture science in high school so he can change lives the way his life was changed. As a freshman, he never imagined his path would take him high into a pine tree needing a trim overlooking Hogwarts Castle at Universal Orlando Resort.
“I worry about it, where I would be,” says the husband and father. “I think I would be working a minimum wage job at the age of 25, working to get by. But now I have a passion, and I got to watch the sun rise and hit the castle and the whole place light up. It was awesome.”
Find Out More
High schools vary in CTE opportunities for students. Here are some ideas to help your student: »Start by talking to your school counselor and exploring options. Programs may vary from school to school in a district as well as partnerships with universities, community colleges and businesses. »Offerings also vary from school district to school district. Check out surrounding school districts, talk to the counselors and teachers there, and consider an attendance variance. »Learn more about the state’s guidelines for CTE at www.azed.gov.
Career & Technical Education Benefits
Students on this track: »Qualify for scholarships from different organizations that support the specific career path. »Outpace peers who are not in CTE for internship opportunities and career connections. »Know what they want to do–or don’t want to do–as a future career so it’s a passion not a job. »Save time and money by graduating high school with college credits and certifications.