Master Class

Pima Joint Technical Education District Readies Students for the 21st Century

By Tara Kirkpatrick

At age 23, Lexi Alaniz owned her car and her home. She now owns a salon.

When Cassidy Camp graduated, two construction companies were vying for her heavy machinery skills.

Kagan Barber was just nominated to the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program as a candidate in career and technical education.

These are among the 100,000 success stories of the Pima Joint Technical Education District, a premier Southern Arizona CTE program on its way to becoming a national model for offering students lucrative career pathways with multiple jumping off points for success. In addition to preparing them for advanced degrees in 21st-century relevant fields, Pima JTED gives them the credentials for immediate employment in a regional economy eager to hire them.

“We change lives,” said Pima JTED Superintendent and CEO Kathy Prather. “We open up a new world of possibility and at the same time, we are able to serve the economic development needs of our community. Our young people leave us with leadership skills in addition to the technical skills to be leaders of the future.”

From welding to web design, phlebotomy to precision manufacturing, cosmetology to cybersecurity, Pima JTED offers myriad, free programs to high school students, who can enroll online or contact their individual counselors at each designated high school. Pima JTED also serves students who have not earned a diploma or GED and are under the age of 22. Students may attend Pima JTED classes at one of its campuses throughout Pima County, or at one of the satellite locations at all public high schools in Pima County, Santa Cruz Valley, Nogales and in Mammoth San Manuel.

There are more than 60 programs available in business arts and design; computers and media; health science; hospitality and human services; industrial technologies; public service; and science and engineering.

“It’s very powerful to see how our programs have changed our students’ lives,” said Greg D’Anna, Pima JTED’s director of public relations. “I have always had a passion for education, but what really got me hooked was seeing our students actually wearing scrubs and performing medical procedures, seeing firefighting students dressed in full gear, spraying 

water.”

Local industries–many who have partnered with Pima JTED – have benefitted immensely from the high-quality graduates.

“We must all recognize the value that JTED provides for the future of many different businesses, services and even our own personal livelihood,” said Daryl Koeppel, longtime parts and service director for Jim Click Automotive Team. “What kind of negative impact might you encounter should the automotive repair industry be unable to effectively support your transportation needs? The automotive technician of today must be smarter than a brain surgeon. They must be able to keep pace with the technical advancements used to work on automobiles and also keep pace with the ever-changing engineering designs.”

Koeppel and Click were instrumental in promoting the need for Pima JTED when it was a ballot initiative in 2006. Koeppel himself was a vocational education student at Palo Verde High School before going to work for the Jim Click Automotive Team, where he has served for 46 years. They have hired hundreds of Pima JTED students over the years.

John Dennis chairs Optics Valley Arizona, an Arizona Technology Council committee that supports optics, photonics and astronomy interests throughout the state.

“Pima JTED is an important element in the education and workforce development ecosystem of Southern Arizona,” said Dennis, also president of consulting firm Strategy1 Services. “In spite of the setbacks from COVID-19, many aspects of our economy are experiencing robust growth. JTED students graduate from high school with specific skills to enable them to immediately become contributors to that growth and expansion.”

Howard Stewart, president and CEO of AGM Container Controls Inc., said he doesn’t know how his company’s precision machine shop would have survived, let alone thrived, if AGM’s young machinists hadn’t had Pima JTED to support them toward a machining career.  “JTED has been a God-send for AGM, in terms of having provided the financial support and training for such students to hit the ground running in this ever-increasingly challenging, technical field.” 

Added AGM machine shop manager Tim O’Moore: “The caliber of the training provided by JTED to their students is what has enabled AGM’s Precision Machine Shop to grow almost exponentially in the last 10 years.”

Mary Darling, CEO of Darling Geomatics, is an ardent supporter of Pima JTED. 

“As a high tech land surveying company that owns 10 drones, Darling Geomatics is seeking licensed pilots for aerial surveying and mapping, forensic investigations, damage assessments and natural resource mapping,” said Darling. “The JTED drone program is training students for jobs of the future, including jobs that haven’t even been imagined yet.” 

Pima JTED has cultivated a legacy of innovation and collaboration from the beginning. To this day, it actively seeks out partnerships with local industries to curate the classes offered and solicit instructors from those fields to guide the students. “Almost all of our instructors are from industry, with a passion for what they do and a desire to teach,” said D’Anna. “So we have people who are well-versed in what it takes to succeed in a profession.”

Take Lexi Alaniz. Now the owner of Bellazza Salon 2.0, Alaniz first heard about cosmetology classes at Pima JTED as a Sahuarita High School student. In those classes, she found her calling. “I knew this was what I was meant to do,” said Alaniz. “I love it. I love coming into work every day.”

“Not many students start their own business at age 17,” she said. “I started off with one goal: I want to do good hair, I want to take classes in education. Then, I wanted to teach, and I wanted to own my own salon and then I wanted to have a salon where everyone was confident in what they were doing.” Alaniz now regularly hires JTED graduates to work in her salon.

When Cassidy Camp graduated in 2018, two construction companies were fighting to hire her for her abillities in welding, driving a CAT and heavy machinery and masonry–all skills she learned through Pima JTED. At the groundbreaking for the new Innovative Learning Center @ The Bridges, Camp operated one of the earth movers, said D’Anna.

Kagan Barber has relished his Pima JTED classes in heavy machinery and drone operation. “It’s really the hands-on learning aspect,” he said. “I just really enjoy operating things, the physical and mentally challenging aspects of it.” 

Barber had the chance to go on industry visits to construction, mining and heavy equipment companies during his time at Pima JTED. During these visits, company leadership could actually hand-pick students they wanted to hire after seeing their skills—the way a college football coach pursues a potential recruit. “They can see the students they want,” he said. “It allows the student to get one foot through the door.” 

It was Barber’s construction technologies instructor, Craig Bal, who nominated him for the U.S. Presidential Scholars program—one of the nation’s highest honors for high school students.

“Pima JTED does an excellent job of finding out what the needs are in the community,” said Barber’s mom, Kami Blackhurst. “They will ask, what do you want in an employee and make sure they fit that bill.”

As Pima JTED is poised to honor its 100,000th alumnus this year, Prather wrote a Feb. 5 editorial in the Arizona Daily Star. “We’re excited to be crossing the 100,000 threshold of JTED alumni, in this new year we’ve all been eager to welcome, having equipped them with skills they need to enhance our region’s competitiveness and participate in the new economy.”

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