National CTE Month celebrates modern vocational programs in local high schools. Pictured: Sierra Orosco and Audra Burgett work on a small engine as part of their work in the Globe High School Agriculture CTE program. Photo provided
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National CTE Month highlights career training programs throughout the Copper Corridor

In recognition of Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month, schools throughout the Copper Corridor will celebrate the programs designed to give students hands-on training to prepare them for a modern workplace.

The Cobre Valley Institute of Technology (CVIT) is vital in supporting programs in schools from San Carlos to Superior, including Globe, Miami, Ray and Hayden. These programs act as remote classrooms, giving students real-world experience and a chance to try different career options while earning school credit.

What used to be called vocational-technical education—Vo-Tech—has evolved from basic home economics and shop classes to multifaceted modern programs that project a professional atmosphere and use the latest technology.

“In order to have a culinary program, you have to have a commercial kitchen your students can learn in,” says Aja DeZeeuw, CVIT’s Central Campus Counselor. “It’s the same thing with construction: They’re using high-tech tools that require high-tech skills, and learning how to use the tools of the trade is not just tinkering. It’s evolved a lot, and we’re happy to be able to provide those opportunities for our kids.”

CTE isn’t just important for students – it plays a vital role in supplying a workforce for key industries and employers across the state.

According to the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), 51% of jobs in Arizona require training and more education than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year degree. Yet only 46% of Arizona workers are trained to that level, leaving a talent gap in high-skill, high-wage and in-demand career fields including aerospace and defense, manufacturing, bioscience and health care, and film and digital media.

During the 2020-21 school year, Arizona had 111,187 secondary CTE participants and 94,640 postsecondary CTE participants. That year, CTE students earned 44,107 postsecondary credentials.

These programs were subsidized in FY2023 by over $34 million in Perkins funding through legislation passed in 1984 to strengthen CTE programs with federal investments.

While CVIT operates eight central campus programs out of the Gila Pueblo Campus in Globe, the high school CTEs act as satellite classrooms that increase capacity and allow students to participate without traveling.

The CTE programs offer specialized training and teach students the basic skills necessary to transition from the classroom to the workplace.

Each school that CVIT supports has numerous CTE programs covering various career paths. To highlight the success of CTE, we look at four Copper Corridor high school programs offering modern career educational opportunities.

San Carlos High School

Darren Chimoni and Ruben Barrasa built a shed as part of their final project for the San Carlos High School Construction CTE program. Photo provided

The Construction Technologies Program at San Carlos High School is led by longtime instructor Kris Klindt, who has taught at the school for 23 years in subjects ranging from language arts to agriculture. Klindt, who spent 10 years in the construction industry right after high school, took over the CTE program nine years ago.

“Our goal is to provide entry-level construction workers to send out into industry,” Klindt says. “If you can complete two years with me, you will have enough knowledge to walk onto a job site and get a job starting out at roughly $25 an hour.”

The two-year program begins with a focus on safety, shop procedures and learning how to use the tools of the trade. In the first semester, students make a project of their own choice. 

The second semester is devoted to building a dog house from professional plans. Students receive training for OSHA certificates and are tasked with building a fully functional dog shed. The sheds are eventually sold, with the proceeds reinvested into the program.

Along the way, Klindt teaches his students a little bit of everything, from plumbing to electrical work to masonry and concrete, and even how to interact with supervisors and other workers. 

Above all, he focuses on safety and instilling good work habits in his students.

“Safety’s a priority, not only at school but also on job sites,” Klindt says. But my passion lies in giving hope. My goal is to let these kids know the satisfaction or pride of taking care of yourself and not relying on other people.”

Globe High School

Andrew Curiel (left) and Alexis Payne perform masonry work for their Globe High School Agriculture CTE program. Photo provided

The Globe Agricultural Sciences Education program is led by another longtime teacher who has returned to the classroom after retiring in 2018.

Maegan Dixon is an Alabama native who has lived in Arizona since middle school and has spent 23 years in the classroom.

Dixon participated in FFA and 4-H in high school, and her children have followed in her footsteps. Her husband, the owner of Dixon Rock & Materials, spent most of his life hauling cattle. Maegan has devoted most of her adult life to agriculture and operating heavy equipment.

She came to GHS two years ago through her connections as a board member for the Gila County Fair and has seen the high school’s ag program grow under her leadership.

“I’ve always enjoyed agriculture, and my whole life has revolved around agriculture,” Dixon says. “Last year, we had just under 100 students, and now we’re almost at 150 and we have been super involved in the community.”

The program comprises 26 areas, from forestry to floriculture, covering land management, meat evaluation, and even mechanics. Dixon also teaches extensively about managing, running and marketing for agribusiness.

Her students are building a 500-square-foot greenhouse at the stockyards in Globe, funded by a grant. The program has also given back to the community, with students volunteering to help the Gila County Cattle Growers with their annual fundraiser, putting on petting zoos at elementary schools, holding food drives, gathering donations for animal shelters and even helping paint some of the historic steps in downtown Globe.

Given the region’s agricultural and ranching history, Dixon says the diversity of species and land use requires a multifaceted teaching approach for future land stewards.

Surprisingly, her students are not as drawn to showing animals as other facets of the program, and Dixon says the most popular section she teaches is mechanics. She drives heavy equipment and her grandmother was a riveter, so it’s only natural for Dixon to carry on the tradition.

“Taking apart and rebuilding motors, working on the machinery for building shade structures or maintaining tractors, whatever it is, you need those skills,” Dixon says. “It’s definitely exposure to different career paths, but it’s also learning skills that you can implement in life on a daily basis.”

Miami High School

Students from the Miami High School Culinary CTE program process 30 chickens raised by the Agricultural program. Photo provided

There’s more to working in the food industry than being able to cook, and MHS Culinary Arts instructor Dan Hill educates his students on the business from farm to table to clean up.

Culinary Arts is one of seven vocational programs at MHS, along with graphic and web design, early childhood education, journalism, agriculture, construction, and software and app design.

Hill is an accomplished instructor who has been at MHS for 11 years. He also teaches government and Japanese.

He has about 24,000 hours of experience in the kitchen and tries to keep his students engaged by giving them a wide array of experiences both in and out of the classroom.

“We spend 50% of our time or slightly more in the kitchen, setting up for our catering events or cooking,” Hill says. “Then, usually once a week, unless we have some other big banquet, we’ll cook something here that we sell to the teachers in our little cafe.”

His students cater one or two events a month, but Hill says they no longer take on outside events other than for Miami alumni groups because of the program’s popularity.

The program is open to sophomores and up, and one of its draws is getting a ServSafe food safety certificate. That certificate can open up opportunities in food handling and add to a graduate’s earning power after high school.

At the end of the school year, Hill’s classes take the money made through events and sales and use it for a class trip or culinary adventure outside of the Copper Corridor.

Ultimately, Hill believes CTE gives students a sense of what to expect in the “real world” and baseline survival skills, as they get exposure to behind-the-scenes business operations, be they bookkeeping or supply chains.

“We have lessons we have to get through, but so much is hands-on: running our little diner and catering events and learning to cook different meals,” Hill says. “But the kids love the hands-on stuff, they love getting out of their seats and actually being able to do something.”

Superior High School

Sophomore Cisco Macias works the register at the Panther Den at Superior High School as part of his work for Business Management in the school’s CTE program. Photo provided

CTE in Superior is home-grown, given that Business Management instructor Christine Martinez and two CTE directors are born and raised in the town and graduates of Superior High School.

Martinez has led the program since 2010 and is completely invested in the community.

“I was a paraprofessional here, taking classes so that I could eventually become a teacher, but I didn’t really have a path that I wanted to go,” Martinez says. “We had such a big turnover that I was able to get an emergency certificate, and I’m still here.”

What was once a marketing program has grown into a three-level management education that teaches students everything from managing a supply chain to creating, marketing and selling the school’s yearbooks.

Students spend the first year learning about book work and doing hands-on projects. They learn leadership skills, management styles and basic economics, including how supply and demand works, price floors and price ceilings. The first few weeks are devoted to learning computer tools such as Microsoft Office, and how to write a professional email. 

Martinez says those basic skills can help students flourish professionally, even if they don’t complete the course.

“Those are all skills that you use,” she says. “If you’re going to have a budget at home, Excel is great for budgeting, and we’re seeing more and more companies that want you to know how to use some kind of Microsoft product.”

Second-year students run the Panther Den, a store that sells snacks and spirit gear. But the pinnacle of the class is producing the yearbook.

Both the Panther Den and yearbook production encompass all the skills Martinez tries to impart, from conceptualizing the product to figuring out costs and overhead, managing inventory, bookkeeping and operating a point-of-sale system.

Students working on the yearbook sell advertising to local businesses, create the ads and eventually lay out the yearbook.

Profits go back into the program to purchase incidentals not covered by school funding, and some is used to help keep yearbook costs down for students.

The program is connected to Future Business Leaders of America and the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), a national Career and Technical Student Organization (CTSO). Annual competitions usually takes place in April and include a gamut of topics, such as word processing and job interviews. This year, the nationals will be held in Orlando.

“Last year, we got to go to Atlanta, Georgia, and it was a neat experience,” Martinez says. “They didn’t place nationally, but traveling was a great experience for them.”

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