Career-Based Groups Abound At Payson High School

Rigorous classes help students prepare for jobs wrangling everything from computers to cows



Amen Sharma gets deep into this computer as he sets up to run dual monitors.


Suzanna Jacobson/Roundup

Sean Ford (standing, left) and James Potvin give a presentation about Safeway’s training program to PHS marketing teacher Joe Parane (seated, left) and resident volunteer Herb Sherman, who gauge the students’ performance of the task.

Career and Technical Education programs in 21st-century high schools bear little resemblance to your father’s manual arts classes or your grandmother’s home economics lessons.

Even the name has changed. Career and Technical Education (CTE) has replaced Vocational Education as the designation for integrated, coordinated and rigorous programs that seldom end with a high school diploma and frequently lead to lucrative careers.

CTE programs are integrated with academic standards. They are coordinated with college or technical school post-secondary education. They are rigorous, many leading to national or state certification.

The organizations based around these programs at Payson High School provide students opportunities to expand their horizons, compete statewide and nationally, and develop leadership and collaborative skills. Available organizations include the traditional FFA (Future Farmers of America) and FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) as well as newer organizations: FEA (Future Educators of America) and FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America).

CTE programs and their related student organizations represent a shift in American Career and Technical Education to careers that will demand well-trained workers in the 21st century.

According to PHS Culinary Arts teacher Devon Wells, “Arizona is very vocationally oriented. The emphasis has always been, ‘let’s get the kids a job.’” This focus has resulted in a wide spectrum of 21st-century career education programs including, of course, computers.

Teacher Bud Evans runs the Information Technology Program at PHS. His students can achieve A+ Computer Maintenance certification as well as Network+ Certification. Evans also offers IC-3, basic computer proficiency certification.

As part of the curriculum, students participate in Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA). Senior David Knauer says that FBLA has given him “real-world skills to apply what I’ve learned in class.”

FBLA Community Service Chairperson Tyler Kennedy appreciates that the group “teaches a lot about presentation and how to handle yourself professionally.”

The PHS FBLA chapter is ranked No. 1 in Arizona despite being a small, one-teacher program compared to large Valley schools with multiple teachers and many, many students.

Students describe Evans as “awesome,” and, “definitely my favorite teacher.”

Evans came to teaching and PHS through a program called Troops to Teachers. As he approached retirement in the United States Air Force, he prepared himself for this second career. He continues to pursue training in the computer field, keeping up with the latest technology.

CTE programs are also configured for students to continue their education after high school graduation. Both Knauer and Kennedy plan to continue their education at the university level. Knauer will attend ASU to study embedded systems technology. He will learn to write software programs for applications such as iPhones and automobile computers.

Knauer would like to eventually earn a master’s degree in computer science. Kennedy will continue his education at DeVry University, one of the nation’s best technical schools. He wants to become a network administrator and will study network communications.

While FBLA students pursue cutting-edge technology, Future Farmers of America (FFA) students venture way beyond farms. FFA has grown and changed, serving the traditional interests of rural students that live on farms and ranches while including students living in more urban areas.

FFA members can pursue many tracks such as natural resources, veterinary science, wildlife management, golf course maintenance and equine science. As Jordan Hunt, FFA chapter secretary, says, “FFA is a lot more than playing with dirt and fish.”

Senior Kevin Marks, current Payson FFA chapter president, competes at events in the wildlife category. He identifies animals from skulls, scat and tracks.

Competition gets more technical when he takes on GPS plotting, fire weather mapping and electrical modeling for forest applications. Payson students consistently place in the top 10 in the state for the wildlife.

Karly Lann, chapter vice president, participates in horse events. She is looking forward to moving into the new Ag building building on the PHS campus.

At last, students and teacher Wendell Stevens will have a place where much more hands-on teaching and learning will take place. Lann plans to be a veterinary technician. Her PHS Ag classes will prepare her for post-secondary education to achieve her goal.

FFA is well-known for its emphasis on public speaking and parliamentary procedure. Stud-ents say they have gained confidence and skill in speaking before groups, running meetings and planning and carrying out events.

FFA is also well known for its uniforms including a jacket that members wear at events.

Hunt says, “I feel proud when I put the jacket on.” Lann is also proud to wear the FFA jacket and knows that “there are standards I need to live up to in that jacket.”

With the chapter name embroidered on the back of the jacket, students are approached by FFA students, teachers and advisers from other areas who want to know more about Payson’s legendary affiliation with FFA.

That long association with FFA is a product of Stevens’ efforts during the 30 years he has taught agriculture education at PHS. One of his keys to success is that he expects students to go beyond what they think they can do.

His students describe him as someone they “can look up to and depend on.” Stevens has also planted agriculture education teachers throughout Arizona, all graduates of the Payson High School program.

Culinary arts program

In a new program, led by veteran teacher Devon Wells, culinary arts students are building their own legacy. These students have proven that, despite the program’s short history, they can compete with other culinary arts students across Arizona.

Students have won thousands of dollars in scholarship money to top-notch culinary arts schools.

They were chosen to assist Guy Fieri, one of the Food Network’s top chefs, when he visited Mesa. They do private catering, provide tasty staff lunches, hold their own with local chefs at the popular “Taste of Rim Country” library fund-raiser, host a community chef event and attend competitions throughout Arizona.

Their student organization is called Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA).

Justin Richardson has won a significant scholarship to Johnson and Wales University to continue his culinary arts studies. Richardson wears the chef’s jacket and chef’s hat very naturally. He has learned leadership skills and finds that “leading a team in the kitchen” appeals to him.

Nicole Depugh started her culinary arts classes as a freshman in an introductory class called life connections. Since the number of students wanting to enter the culinary arts program and most other CTE programs exceeds the number of spaces available, Nicole had to interview for a place in the program. Now a senior, Nicole is looking forward to a job at a Texas ranch cooking for big-game hunters.

Depugh and Richardson could not have gotten where they are without a dedicated teacher and a well-equipped classroom. With the demise of the home economics curriculum, the associated room on campus was transformed into a culinary arts kitchen, with separate prep, cooking, storage and clean-up areas.

Educational professionals

Right next door to culinary arts is another new program in the lineup: education professions. The program is in its second year, headed by teacher Ingrid Schon. It gives students exposure to the education profession and prepares them for post-secondary studies. Students are currently student teaching twice a week at Payson Elementary School.

Schon is well-liked by students. She not only teaches them about being a teacher, she also gives them strategies to do well in their other classes.

Like students in many of the CTE programs at PHS, students in the advanced level of education professions receive dual credit at Gila Community College. Stud-ents that complete the advanced classes will have credit equal to taking the college’s introduction to education class, a requirement in all college and university teacher preparation programs.

Ana Carranza and senior Marissa Garcia participate in the education professions program and serve as officers in FEA (Future Educators of America).

FEA sponsors the PHS Teacher of the Month in which students nominate a teacher that has inspired them. Students in FEA worked on Jump Rope for Heart at the elementary schools.

They also maintain a blog on the PHS Web site, www.pusd.k12. and keep a multimedia scrapbook of their activities and accomplishments. They are raising money for a scholarship to a PHS student who plans to enter the teaching profession, called the Pool Scholarship in memory of chemistry teacher Cynthia Pool, who was killed in a cycling accident last June.

Students also compete through FEA. State and national competitions incorporate academic skills such as writing. At a recent state meeting, students in the essay-writing contest had to discuss “How to Recruit and Keep Teachers in Arizona.”

With a massive teacher shortage looming on the horizon, students in Ms. Schon’s classes are getting a head start on an important career.

Carranza plans on attending college, perhaps Abilene Christian University in Texas, to major in education and business with a minor in English as a second language. Garcia is off to either Glendale Community College or ASU to major in education and minor in sports medicine.

Sports marketing occupies students in Joe Parone’s business marketing program. Students in this program participate in DECA, a national association for marketing students.

PHS athletes Josh Frewin and Sean Ford both plan to learn all they can at PHS and then go on to college to pursue careers in the sporting world. Frewin will major in sports marketing while Ford will prepare to manage a sports complex or operate his own sporting goods store at the W.P. Carey School of Business at ASU.

At a recent competition, students designed a marketing plan for the Phoenix performances of the musical “Rent.”

Ford says a big part of DECA is networking —“learning how to be comfortable speaking with someone you don’t know.” Frewin says DECA also helps define one’s skills.

Because of Parone’s efforts, “providing,” as Sean says, “the best for us,” six DECA students won the right to go to this year’s national DECA competition. Four students will attend the event this summer in Louisville.

Students in all these programs and organizations at PHS are learning life skills such as responsibility, maturity and confidence.

They are reinforcing their academic skills with technical writing, public speaking, math and science. Career-based education accomplishes all this and gives high school students a solid foundation for more education, a good-paying summer job or even a lifelong vocation. No, it’s not your father’s manual arts or your grandmother’s home economics. Today’s Career Technical Education is much, much more.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Requires free registration

Posting comments requires a free account and verification.