State Guts Vocational Class Plan

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First the state Legislature slashed its budget and now the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) has gutted the Northern Arizona Vocational Institute of Technology (NAVIT) nursing and fire science programs for Payson High School students.

“The ADE is basically saying they cannot pay for academic classes,” said Matt Weber, NAVIT superintendent to explain the consequences of the decision.

The NAVIT program allowed high school students to study at Gila Community College (GCC) to become a nursing assistant or fireman. The state vocational program covered the costs, so by the time high school students graduated from GCC, they could enter the workforce or apply the credits to a university degree.

Not covering core academic classes such as English, math, psychology and chemistry needed for the degree will change what NAVIT can offer students.

“There’s not enough nonacademic courses to make a program of study,” said Weber.

The Department of Education says it will now only fund courses that specifically provide career and technical skills, not the required academic classes professors say remain essential.

In the 1990s, Arizona voters approved a proposition that pays for the NAVIT program to give high school graduates a marketable skill.

“Now parents will have to pay for three or four extra classes to make up for what we used to fund,” he said.

From 2004 until the end of this school year, Payson High School students could graduate high school with certifications to work in fire sciences or nursing. NAVIT paid for tuition, books, and equipment with a price tag of about $10,000 to $12,000 per student.

The Health Related Occupations (HRO) course offered students the chance to complete prerequisites for nursing or other health careers. Courses included chemistry, English, an introduction to psychology, biology, math and anatomy.

Along with these courses, the HRO student could qualify to take the nursing assistant certification test. If they passed, students could start work in hospitals, nursing homes and residential care facilities.

Nursing assistants are trained to care for patient’s needs from changing beds, to serving meals, taking temperatures, pulse and respiration.

“We’re sun-setting the health occupation program and introducing the medical assistant program,” said Weber.

The medical assistant program teaches students skills needed for administrative and clinical jobs in a doctor’s office. Medical assistants make up to $30,000 per year.

However, the NAVIT medical assistant classes include prerequisites for any other health occupation course of study.

“The bigger picture is a program of study and career preparation,” Weber said. “These are dyed-in-the-wool students who want to be in the medical profession.”

He said students who might not see the relevance of a math or English course saw their relevance as part of the NAVIT program.

“They do better because it’s their passion,” he said.

Fire science graduates qualified to work either as a wildfire firefighter or at a municipal fire department. With additional training, a fire science student could become an emergency medical technician (EMT) or firefighter if they had their basic classes finished. Now they need more classes to complete their certificate.

NAVIT is its own school district that organizes career and technical classes on high school campuses and community colleges across Arizona. Since it started in Payson, the program has brought $3.6 million into the Payson Unified School District.

The NAVIT program pays a portion of the salaries of the teachers for auto, construction, culinary, agriculture, theater, engineering, information technology and marketing classes offered at the high school.

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