CAVIT May Membership Luncheon

Charles Dewsnup of the Coolidge Chamber of Commerce welcomes CAVIT Assistant Principal Stacey Rich to the lectern for her speech Wednesday afternoon.

COOLIDGE — Stacey Rich is only in her second year as career and technical education director and assistant principal at Central Arizona Valley Institute of Technology. However, the enthusiasm she showed in her presentation at CAVIT’s May Membership Luncheon had the feeling of someone who has built the school from the ground up.

With the help of the Coolidge Chamber of Commerce, Rich gathered a meeting room full of interested or current business partners of the school to explain the benefits of investing in their career technical school that is training the next generations of professionals, right in Coolidge.

To the interested partners, she said, “I want to give you a little bit of background about what CAVIT is — I’ll give you the CliffsNotes version.” She joked, “there will not be a quiz at the end.”

While the school, solely comprised of high school juniors and seniors, does not graduate students, it offers professional certificates, paid internship opportunities and daily field or lab experience in several technical careers.

Students enrolled at CAVIT split their time between their home high school and the technical school — traveling to CAVIT for two hours of the school day. For those two hours, students will get diverse instruction and plenty of hands-on experience.

The CAVIT model has four pillars — classroom instruction, laboratory instruction, career-based learning and leadership development — as Rich explained in her presentation.

Vocational schools can be considered unusual now, but at one point were pretty standard. When CAVIT was looking for a city that would approve their development plans nearly 20 years ago, Rich said very few were interested. At the time, and through the subsequent decades, a college education has been considered a priority for graduating students and trades overall received less attention from the education field.

However, Rich said career and technical education is crucial because it is here to develop a competitive workforce, “so that our young people don’t come out of high school without having some job skills if they choose to.”

She also discussed the prevalence of cooperative education programs just a few generations ago. Students used to split their days entirely between earning high school credits while also earning money and job skills at a viable company that usually offered a full-time position to the student upon graduation. “CAVIT was a part of that system when it was in existence — it still exists today, but it’s not used a whole lot,” she said.

Popular transition away from this system has left many businesses less inclined to hire candidates that are younger than 18 — leaving a large group of young students with little to no hard skills in their emerging fields. CAVIT is trying to bridge this gap and garner local corporate interest in internship or job shadowing opportunities for their students.

“They (cooperative programs) weren’t afraid of bringing in a 16-year-old — so I want to start with that, because I know a lot of people are afraid of 16-year-olds,” said Rich. However, she acknowledged that sometimes it is out of concern for safety that companies won’t participate in such a program.

This year, Abbott Laboratories partnered with CAVIT to bring in students to tour their facilities; learn from current employees how to draft a successful resume; practice in a mock panel interview; and go through a mock on-boarding process that included a breakdown of common company benefits. They even offered five students who attended paid internships starting at $20 an hour.

And Rich believes Lucid Motors could be next on the list to provide this quality experience. “Lucid is very excited,” she said. “I would guess in four years Lucid’s going to have their own program because they see the wisdom of what Abbott is doing and they want in on that business.”

A cooperative system or career-technical education, Rich postures, could be what prevents students from spending thousands on a degree to enter a field they later find out does not spark their interest and passion. To provide an example, Rich shared the story of a student she had just last year.

This student, the daughter of a nurse, was certain she was going to go to school to become a nurse. However, after getting hands-on health professional experience from the CAVIT Nursing Science program, Rich said the student told her, “I don’t like to touch people.”

“She did not realize she didn’t like doing that part of the work,” said Rich. And because a large part of nursing is the bedside care and patient interaction, this student avoided several years and many dollars toward a degree in nursing. Rich said, “she’s a very happy accountant today.”

Students receive a large portion of their hands-on experience in the program-based clinics CAVIT hosts that offer services completely free of charge to the community.

Rich said the clinics will usually start mid-school year to give the students and program leaders time to gain a feel for their ability and to allow students to build a certain level of confidence before performing services for real clients.

Their clinics include an animal day spa; massage spa; dental and wellness clinics; as well as a hair and nail clinic.

Rich explained the clinics are the real deal because they bring in current professionals of the field to work alongside the students. “We actually pay for a dentist to come in and provide free dental services” that will even include complete tooth extractions if necessary, she said.

The animal and day spa and wellness clinics will also have a certified professional in attendance.

Students of the cosmetology program will get to cut and style clients’ hair or practice their best nail designs on potential future customers through the hair and nail clinics.

“Now, the one thing I will say for anyone thinking about it — they are not as fast as when you go to a professional salon,” said Rich, “so, if you’re going to go get a free manicure, a free pedicure, plan on giving a little more time because these young people are learning so we have to be patient and give them that opportunity.”

If you are brave, you can let Nursing Science students practice phlebotomy on you at the wellness clinics, Rich said.

Several times throughout the presentation, she encouraged local partners to become more involved with the CAVIT student population — because she has noticed in her position that students will prioritize employers they have developed relationships with and employers that showed interest in them when it comes time to put their skills on the market.

“We would love to have you come and be a guest speaker and talk about your industry — who knows, you may find an employee or two that gets excited about what you do.”

This Friday the school will be taking their Automated Industrial Tech and Drones Tech programs to tour Cardinal Glass in Casa Grande.

“Now Logan Kelly, who is the plant manager there — he is very fortunate right now, he is fully staffed and so he’s not one of the people who’s out looking very desperately for interns, but he’s more than happy — he’s going to give us a tour.”

Next on the list for CAVIT, is completing construction of a new large facility on the east side of their current campus.

“The town of Coolidge has agreed to lease us another 6.5 acres right next to where we currently are and we are in the works of building a construction, welding, probably move our AIT over there as well, our automated industrial tech, so it’s going to be kind of an industrial building,” said Rich.

Once the building is complete, in about one to 2.5 years, she hinted to those present that the school will have to lock down an educator for the construction program as Central Arizona College just lost theirs.

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Taylor Griffith is a reporter for PinalCentral covering Coolidge news, education and more.

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