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CTE makes achieving dreams possible.

The technical skills of the fashion designer, firefighter, broadcaster and chef could not be more different. But it's other skills they have in common that alumni of the East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT) credit with their success in those fields. They say the ability to communicate and collaborate, to balance a workload and meet deadlines, to fuel every day with professionalism and passion--those are the skills that make the difference between a mediocre job and a successful career.

And none of that, EVIT alumni say, would have been possible for them without the quality career and technical education (CTE) they received at EVIT, a public CTE school for high school students and adults in Mesa, Arizona.

Landry Low, 22, who completed EVIT's fashion design program in 2011, earned her bachelor of fine arts degree last spring from the Pratt Institute in New York. She also won the $10,000 Young Woman Design Award from Rolls-Royce Motor Cars as part of the Women of Influence in the Business of Style event after the Pratt Senior Fashion Show.

"I still use the skills I learned at EVIT every day. The skills I learned weren't just limited to fashion design, merchandising and those respective skills," Low said. "I also learned about business etiquette, time management, how to document my work and how to manage working with a team on projects."

Strong Outcomes

In Arizona and nationally, momentum is building behind CTE as more and more educators, policymakers and business leaders are recognizing the benefits of connecting young people with technical training: higher high school graduation rates, greater persistence to finish college and workers who can meet the demands of industry.

At 76 percent, Arizona's high school graduation rate is average compared to the rest of the nation. But students who complete EVIT programs have a 96 percent graduation rate. EVIT serves students who live in 10 school districts in the suburbs east of Phoenix. Students spend half of each day at their high school for academic subjects and half the day at EVIT for career training. Even when compared to high schools with graduation rates of 96 percent or higher, EVIT students still have higher graduation rates than that of their home high school. Some EVIT programs have 100 percent graduation rates.

Ally Baker, 19, was an average student with a GPA of about 2.9 at Hamilton High School in Chandler, Arizona, but her teachers recognized that she had the potential to do better. They urged her to try honors classes, but after getting a D in Honors Biology, Baker gave up on higher-level classes. Then she discovered the Radio/Audio Production program at EVIT, where she enrolled to learn about broadcasting for half the school day.

To go to EVIT, Baker was required to earn at least a C in an English class at Hamilton. Not only did she do that, but all her grades at her high school started going up. "EVIT was the only part of my day that I really cared about, but that made me work harder in my other classes," she said. By her senior year, she was taking all honors classes at Hamilton and raised her GPA to 3.7, all while going to EVIT for a half-day and working as a broadcaster for EVIT's radio station, 88.7FM The Pulse. "Everybody says honors classes are hard, but it felt so easy to me because all I wanted to do was EVIT and that allowed me to do EVIT," she said.

When Baker applied to Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, California, officials there noticed how her GPA had suddenly risen, even as she was taking on more responsibility at the radio station. They awarded her a $15,000-per-year scholarship. "They gave me the scholarship for bringing up my GPA and being able to balance both lives--radio broadcasting and honors classes," she said. Now in her second year as a journalism major at Vanguard, Baker loves college. Her grades are good, she works as a sports broadcaster for the school and she is learning to write for television, websites and blogs. Her professors frequently compliment her on how well she interacts with them, other school officials and people she interviews.

"I learned how to communicate and interact with others because at EVIT, you're treated like an adult. You're respected," she said. "I came to college with more of a foundation of how to be an adult." She also came to Vanguard with an ability to multi-task and balance a workload. "EVIT prepares you for self-sufficiency. I felt like I was already in college when I was at EVIT."

Baker credits her EVIT instructor, Steve Grosz, for helping her build confidence and work harder in school. "He has a talent for helping students not only find their passion, but also their confidence that they can do anything," she said. "You realize you have the tools and the opportunity and all these people at EVIT behind you--and that makes you do it. Steve just tells you there is so much more you can do, and so you do it."

Mentoring Success

Students in EVIT's radio program often say that instructor Steve Grosz is the first teacher who ever believed in them. That's because he knows firsthand how much teenagers need that kind of support. Grosz moved from North Dakota to Arizona in 1985 when he was 14. He attended two Mesa junior high schools before moving on to Dobson High, where he was "a decent academic student," but bored every day. Then he signed up for the EVIT radio program. "I came in to EVIT with a pretty good idea at 15-years old of what I wanted to do and what I wanted to be, and then I toured EVIT and saw the radio studios ... and I just knew that was for me," he said. "I got to spend half my school day doing what I wanted to do for the rest of my life."

Grosz' instructor back then was more than a teacher: He was a mentor who helped Grosz get an internship after just two months in the program. "Before EVIT, I knew I had the talent, but I didn't have the tools," Grosz said. "Career and technical education gave me a wonderful mentor, teacher and a studio. Before my senior year, I was on the radio at one of the most powerful radio stations in America, 104 KZZP."

After completing the EVIT radio program, Grosz went on to work for four different radio stations, the Phoenix Suns and his own DJ company before returning to EVIT to teach and manage EVIT's radio station. As much as he loves radio, Grosz couldn't wait to be back in the classroom, this time as the mentor-teacher. "Every kid has potential. Every kid is different. They each have different talents and different strengths," he said. "Why not develop their strengths instead of wasting time on their weaknesses? Make them as employable as possible in what they enjoy the most."

In Grosz' class, Joey Liberatore, 17, has found a way to continue following his passion--baseball--after an injury sidelined him from being able to play. After taking a summer radio class, Liberatore decided to enroll as a junior. In addition to being program director for The Pulse, he got the opportunity to cover high school sports on the radio for AZPreps365, which is operated by the Arizona Interscholastic Association. Then not long after that, he started engineering broadcasts for the Chicago Cubs spring training games in Mesa. From there he spent last summer in Tennessee, where he hosted the pre-game show for the Tennessee Smokies minor league baseball team.

After Liberatore graduates from Perry High School in Gilbert, Arizona, this spring, he plans to go to college, and he hopes to continue working for the Cubs. EVIT, he said, has "just set me up to be far ahead of other students."

A Career Jump-Start

Five years after completing EVIT's Culinary Arts program, Gabriel Garfio, 22, is part owner and executive chef of Mesa's Sunnyside Breakfast Lounge, a restaurant that offers a healthy breakfast and lunch menu while specializing in a variety of healthy juices and other drinks. His future goals include expanding the restaurant's farm-to-table mission, with the "possibility of offering gardening plots to others who share my passion for freshly and organically grown foods."

"The skills I learned at EVIT are priceless in the sense that I wouldn't be the person I am and the cook I am if not for my peers I met at EVIT, as well as the amazing instructors who took the time to expand my knowledge in a passion that I knew very little about," he said, adding that EVIT's chef instructors "all had a certain personality in them, with a mastery in their profession that only ignited my passion further."

After completing the EVIT program, Garfio attended Johnson & Wales University in Denver, where he graduated with an associate in science of culinary arts degree. He also worked at the Cherry Hills Country Club in Cherry Hills, Colorado. Today, in addition to his work at Sunnyside Breakfast Lounge, Garfio serves as one of three judges on Food Ball, a culinary game show for high school students that airs on a local Phoenix television station. Food Ball is filmed in the EVIT Culinary Arts kitchen.

"EVIT was a huge stepping stone in my path to success, and without the two years I spent there, I might have not gotten into the university I aimed to get into," he said. "Having the skills and knowledge I learned at EVIT made it easy for my transition into another culinary school. Now that I had all the basics under my belt, I was able to prove to my other chef instructors that I was not only capable to do the tasks they asked, but I was also asking the more serious questions and striving to another level where most had not yet begun because the university was their first step."

Like Garfio, Mike Flucker, 22, also found that he was steps ahead of other students after he left EVIT for college. When Flucker completed the Fire Science program in 2011, he was already well on his way to an associate degree because he had received college credits through EVIT's dual enrollment partnership with Mesa Community College. Then in College Academy Fire I and Fire II, he found that he already knew much of the material. "It was just like a review for me," he said. "I noticed that a lot of the other guys had to study. But I almost never had to crack open a book." Today, Flucker is a firefighter for the Mesa Fire Department, a job that he loves. He plans to continue his education, possibly in pursuit of a master's degree from Northern Arizona University, and he wants to eventually move up in the ranks at the fire department.

Real-world Learning

In spring 2015, EVIT was selected by the Arizona Educational Foundation as an A+ School of Excellence, the third time since 2006 that the school has been honored by the foundation. Judges who visited EVIT noted in their report that "students are actively engaged in authentic and real-world learning that is directly transferred to college and career."

It's that realistic experience that made the difference for Landry Low. In EVIT's Fashion Design program, she plunged into a world that not only spurred creativity, but demanded deadline discipline and collaboration. The EVIT Fashion Show featuring clothing collections designed and sewn by seniors is an annual campus highlight that brings multiple programs together. Radio students assist with music, Video and Multimedia students help with videos and photography to document the fashion students' work, Construction students build the stage and runway, Culinary Arts students prepare the event space, Cosmetology and Aesthetics students do hair and makeup, and many students from other programs volunteer as models. "Learning how to communicate and put different skills together for a common goal allows us to create work that we aren't capable of creating on our own," Low said. "EVIT gave me my first taste of that, which I continued to pursue during my college career at Pratt."

Low described the Pratt Institute as "an amazing incubator for collaboration as nearly every practice of design, visual arts and liberal arts is represented." She has taken advantage of as many learning opportunities as possible, including classes in metal fabrication, welding and forge, woodworking and advanced machining. Such courses have expanded her creative practice and perspective, Low said. "It may seem counterintuitive for a fashion major to spend time learning how to operate a manual machine lathe, but the skills I learned on the lathe are deeply applicable to all facets of design and fabrication. Knowing how and why my sewing machine operates the way it does is the kind of knowledge that separates doing and knowing from understanding."

Low is now working for the Pratt admissions office while searching for studio space in New York to develop her next clothing collection, opening her own online shop and acquiring grants to pursue further research and education. It all sounds so far away from the EVIT sewing classroom in Arizona, but Low maintains her CTE training at EVIT remains a vital part of what she does every day.

"There's simply no way I would have been as successful as I was without EVIT," she said. "It wasn't just about the skills I learned or the experience I gained, but it also had to do with stamina. A typical high school education just simply doesn't prepare you for the reality of work. No matter the work, it is pretty rare for it to come neatly packaged in a 30-question worksheet that will be looked over and graded for errors the next day. EVIT helped me become accustomed to this reality and practice this before plunging into the 24/7 type of education that art school provides."

Radio instructor Grosz maintains that all students should be required to take CTE courses so that they can experience the kind of success that Landry, Joey, Ally, Gabriel and Mike, and thousands of other EVIT alumni, have found.

"We make the students' dreams come true. I know that sounds holier than thou, but think about it: If you wrote a song and you were driving down the road with your family and you heard your song on the radio, think of the pride you would feel," he said. "It gives you the fire to keep going out there. That's what career and technical education does." Tech

By CeCe Todd

CeCe Todd is the public information officer for the East Valley Institute of Technology. E-mail her at
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Title Annotation:career and technical education
Author:Todd, CeCe
Geographic Code:1U8AZ
Date:Feb 1, 2016
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