At EVIT more paths than one lead to the American Dream

Students participate in voice recording at the East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa on Monday, Aug. 14. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

At 18-years-old, Scottsdale-resident Bronson Brown was a high school graduate and ready to enter the workforce with two welding certificates under his belt.

Through programs at the East Valley Institute of Technology, hundreds of thousands of students from 10 school districts are given an opportunity to simultaneously finish high school and receive two years of career or college training for free.

EVIT is a public education system for career training options that includes more than 40 programs ranging from culinary arts to health care and machinery to cosmetology.

Tucked into northwest Mesa at 1601 W. Main Street, the 65-acre main campus features state-of-the-art classrooms, equipment and training facilities for high-wage, high-skill and high-demand careers.

District, charter and home-schooled high school students in 10 East Valley school districts — including Scottsdale — are eligible to attend EVIT for free. Students outside of the boundaries, or adults, can attend the school on a tuition basis.

Before they are old enough to vote, some students will have completed programs that could garner them upwards of $80,000 a year, EVIT Principal Mark Yockus said Aug. 14.

Thousands of students from across the East Valley attend their home school for half of the day, and spend the other half of their day on one of EVIT’s four campuses, including one in Fountain Hills.

EVIT Associate Superintendent Dr. Chad Wilson, a Scottsdale resident and former Apache Junction Unified School District superintendent, says he sees an area for growth coming out of Scottsdale’s neighborhoods. While districts like Mesa, Chandler and Higley are sending bus loads of students to EVIT, Scottsdale Unified School District has less than 200 students attending.

In total SUSD sent 152 students from its five high school campuses to EVIT during the 2016-17 school year; while 2,353 — or 25 percent of eligible students — attended one of the 15 joint technical education district, also known as satellite programs, offered on SUSD’s campuses and approved by EVIT.

A view of machinery in EVIT’s classrooms. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

The great satellite debate

Scottsdale Schools’ Assistant Superintendent for Educational Leadership, Dr. Cecilia Johnson says one reason behind utilizing the satellite programs on campus is to be more time efficient for students who live 10 to 20 miles away from EVIT’s main campus in Mesa.

While satellite EVIT programs are offered at Scottsdale’s five high schools, there is far more potential for the students, Dr. Wilson contends. The satellite programs are operated by the district independently, with their own teachers and their own methods.

So while SUSD is sending far fewer students to EVIT then its peer districts, Scottsdale is still providing its students with CTE, according to Dr. Johnson, and the district is seeking to provide its own industry certification tests in the future. Programs through SUSD include: sports medicine, performing arts, professional sales and marketing, software development, and music/audio production.

“Scottsdale and other districts do some things really well, but my kids, if they want a CTE experience, I want Scottsdale to give my kids the experts in that experience, and that would be EVIT,” Dr. Wilson said. “And to top it off, as a property owner in Scottsdale part of my tax dollars are coming to fund this building.”

EVIT Associate Superintendent Dr. Chad Wilson.

As the educational landscape evolves, EVIT officials say they are seeking to provide the best options to all students. While career and technical education has been historically viewed for non-college bound students, that is the opinion of generations past, Dr. Wilson says.

“For my son, sitting through an AP class he’ll do it — if he recognizes the benefit is he gets to work on engines,” Dr. Wilson said of his own experiences. “So I think there’s a missed opportunity for students in our community who would flourish more-so on their home campuses, if they had an opportunity to spend time during the day doing something they enjoy.”

Active projects happening on the EVIT campus include: the build of a home, a green house, a full catering service, a public bistro, a public salon and a radio station.

“Even what we consider career and technical education of the ‘old school’ is now very much ‘new school’ in that you’ll be making $18, $20, $22 an hour with the certificates that we offer,” Dr. Wilson said in an Aug. 14 interview.

Career and technical education — or CTE — practices mastering skills that not only propels new graduates into the work force, but gives them an accessible way to transition into postsecondary education.

EVIT reportedly had 2,824 graduates in a two-year college or four-year university within one year of completing training from 2012 to 2016; and 1,122 students hired by Valley businesses.

“This is not a stopping point, I think 86 percent of our students go onto college,” Mr. Yockus said. “‘CTE that’s for kids that don’t go to college’ — no, they go to college. They might be a certified nursing assistant, but they’re going to go on to be a nurse.”

Students at EVIT do coursework in a classroom setting. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

Setting the pace

For today’s youth EVIT is providing more than just career skills, says Scottsdale father and son Denny and Bronson Brown.

Bronson Brown, 18, graduated from Saguaro High School and EVIT with two certifications in welding. He accepted a job at local company Rockland Trailers full-time upon completion, although he says he was fielding offers from across the country.

While he says he had to give up his lifelong love of playing baseball, he calls his overall experience extraordinary.

“I learned discipline from my instructor Mr. Zamora. My team took first place at the USA Skills Competition in Arizona and went to Nationals in Louisville, Ky. this was an awesome experience,” Bronson explained in an Aug. 15 emailed response to questions. “No words can describe. I had great classmates and great structure.”

His father, Denny Brown is now on the EVIT Foundation Board, which provides scholarships for student supplies, license and certification costs. He says the school helped his son find a passion.

“The real big deal for me was you have to get your grades up, you have to be on a path to graduate in order to participate in EVIT,” Denny said in an Aug. 15 phone interview. “That was a huge motivation for Bronson to do better in school — and to finish school. EVIT provided the motivation ‘I have to graduate and I have to do well.’ It was huge.”

The Foundation Board provides scholarships to students like Bronson, who need hundreds of dollars to get the certifications and licensing, Denny explained.

“That’s kind of the big take away for me,” Denny said. “It was providing inspiration and motivation, and knowing there is a trade once you got out of school.”

Fashion, interiors and textiles is one of the programs offered at EVIT. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

Walking the walk

Arizona Legislative District 25 Rep., Rusty Bowers, is one of EVIT’s welding instructors who spends several hours a day in the hot indoor-outdoor shop with aspiring welders. The two-year program begins with safety training before evolving into hands-on work in the shop. Ultimately, students are encouraged to obtain several certificates or licenses.

“The more certifications you get, the more you can offer an industry,” Mr. Bowers explained Aug. 14. “They have a confidence in seeing those certain skills.”

Mr. Bowers says many of his students go on to work with companies such as Intel.

“You can probably start out $16-$18 an hour, but many base-level, if you have a lot of certificates, you can get $20-$23 dollars an hour,” he explained. “The pipe fitters union works with us, and they’ve got Intel — they need all the pipe fitters they can get, so a lot of union guys have gone to Intel.”

The hands-on experience offered at EVIT is one of the largest benefits for a student, Mr. Yockus noted of what makes the school unique.

“Compared to your high school where you have a 50-minute period, we just have a huge advantage,” he explained. “We have financial backing from 10 school districts, all of the east Valley helm runners. That’s why you put all of your resources here, you walk away with state of the art technology, and you walk away with a national certificate. That’s what we do that separates us from your local high school.”

Northeast Valley News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at mrosequist@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/mrosequist_.

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