Magazine article Techniques

A Non-Traditional Path: Arizona School, Students Break through CTE Stigmas, Gender Barriers

Magazine article Techniques

A Non-Traditional Path: Arizona School, Students Break through CTE Stigmas, Gender Barriers

Article excerpt

Seventeen-year-old Samantha Reaves sports bright pink fingernails. But underneath the polish, you may find grimy traces--grease, oil, diesel--of the nontraditional career she is pursuing at the East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT), a career she has chosen in an industry dominated by men.

"You can be girly. I like getting all girly-ed up," Reaves says. But you have to be OK with getting dirty, too. In diesel, someday I'll be making twice as much money as other women. ... And I'll know I can take care of myself."

At the Mesa, Arizona, career and technical school and in the industry she aspires to join--Reaves is a rare talent, a young woman who is already being sought by employers for her skill in handling diesel engines and heavy equipment.

She is breaking through the gender barrier that keeps many teens out of certain career and technical education (CTE) programs traditionally dominated by the opposite sex. And simply by doing so, she may inspire other young women to pursue nontraditional career paths.

"The biggest thing girls need is to have more role models in these industries stepping forward to mentor them." said EVIT counselor Pauline Acosta. "If they had that, I think that would be huge."

EVIT, home to about 40 occupational programs for high school students and adults, has had to hurdle a few barriers itself. Established in the 1990s, EVIT actually was created to help school districts in the suburbs east of Phoenix overcome the costly barrier to providing quality CTE programs.

Chuck Essigs, a lobbyist with the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, was the business superintendent then for Mesa Public Schools, the state's largest school district, with more than 60,000 students. "At the time, Mesa could not afford to offer the specialized programs," Essigs said. And if we couldn't, the other smaller districts couldn't either. These programs were very expensive to operate. That was the discussion that led IC) all of us going to the legislature."

A bipartisan bill was passed allowing for the creation of joint technological education districts (JTEDs). Ten Arizona school districts--Mesa, Scottsdale, Chandler, Gilbert, Tempe, Higley, Apache junction, Queen Creek, Fountain Hills and J.0. Combs--came together to limn the First JTED, the East Valley Institute of Technology.

"It just makes sense to share the price of high-cost programs," Essigs said. "Everybody could see the value."

Misconceptions and Stigmas

While the creation of the JTEDs helped knock down financial barriers to accessing CTE programs, other barriers remain.

Many educators and counselors still view CTE as the home cc and shop classes from years ago, or as a place for students who struggle academically and don't plan to go to college.

"EAIT is for all kids, including honors students." Superintendent Sally Downey is quick to point out. In fact, students who attend EVIT have a 98 percent graduation rate in their home high schools, and two-thirds of EVIT students go on to college--compared to one-third in the high schools served by EVIT.

Acosta said EVIT is currently working with officials at the Arizona Department of Education to improve its access to students in these schools, to ensure all students including tile highest academic students, who typically are not encouraged to pursue CTE degrees have the opportunity to meet with EVIT representatives. And they hope to require districts to develop long-term career plans for their CTE students that allow them to transfer to EXIT for upper-division courses that lead to employment, postsecondary training, internships and clinical hours, and certificates and licenses.

EVIT is on an improvement plan filed with the state for failing to meet the performance measure for nontraditional student participation. The plan identifies steps the school is taking to increase the number of male or female students in programs that are dominated by one gender. …

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