Not shop class: Vocational education classes now focused on technology
PEORIA – Vocational education programs in Arizona now teach students everything from aerospace to medical technology to culinary arts.
It’s more than shop class. Students in the Peoria Unified School District are getting hands on experience in the medical, engineering and technical fields.
Keegan Monken is a second-year student at the MET Professional Academy. He’s studying engineering with an eye on entrepreneurship and innovation and plans to start up his own business after he graduates in May.
“It’s fun stuff,” he said. “I like programming. And then hopefully, I’ll be pursuing our project that we’re working on here as a business.”
Monken’s instructors are showing him more than just the technical aspects of building his career.
“One of the biggest things we’re learning in this class are elevator pitches,” he said. “You’re in an elevator and you have 60 seconds to pitch someone your business. … If they’re interested, then you might just have a business partner.”
MET stands for Medical, Engineering and Technical. However, Peoria Unified School District offers more than those three programs. The school also offers design, early childhood education, culinary arts, marketing and others.
Peoria Unified Superintendent Darwin Stiffler said the programs are designed to close the skills gap for graduating students entering the workforce.
“We have this intricate web … of advisory councils that has educators, and business people and government leaders to decide which of the programs we need to offer. We track very carefully the demands for those programs. What are kids excited about and what does the community need? And we try to match those things up,” Stiffler said.
The students have the opportunity to work with high-tech equipment.
For example, the medical students work with 3-D glasses and Z-Space monitors to dissect different parts of the human body. While they still have the opportunity to perform real dissections, the new technology allows them to learn about the human body faster, cheaper and without the mess.
Instructors are certified to teach college-level courses, so these students can earn dual-enrollment at the same time.
“There are students within our programs who graduate from high school, and they also already have two years of college done,” Stiffler said. “That’s an enormous savings for families and the whole college debt burden across our country.”
Roughly 42 percent of all Peoria Unified students are taking advantage of CTE programs, according to district spokeswoman Erin Dunsey.
Stiffler said Peoria Unified is the leader in CTE programs, but he can see that it’s rapidly expanding throughout other Arizona school districts.
Click here for more information on the Peoria Unified High School District’s programs.