Throughout 2020, schools and students alike have faced unprecedented challenges. Now, as Arizona starts to revive, students are looking for the education option that best fits their needs. Some schools are offering online learning while others are offering a hybrid learning model. Western Maricopa Education Center (West-MEC), a local public career and technical education district, has returned to their in-person, hands on learning model, which is necessary for the variety of programs and certifications they offer.
With four campuses throughout the North and West Valley and more than 37,000 students from 48 high schools from districts in the Phoenix Metropolitan area, West-MEC offers an assortment of funded programs designed for students that are looking for unique career pathways after high school graduation.
West-MEC students can earn a certification and gain employment immediately after high school or apply their experiences and knowledge to their next level of traditional education. There are a variety of career programs for students and families in North Phoenix and nearby communities.
“Today, more than ever, it’s vital that students understand the application of academics to real-world careers,” says West-MEC Superintendent Greg Donovan. “The United States is, and will be, in need of a highly trained and skilled workforce for the 21st century. We are grateful for the opportunity to develop new and thriving educational centers where students are empowered to participate fully in the economy.”
West-MEC’s focus is on the delivery of quality, comprehensive, articulated, industry-validated programs, facilities, equipment and resources that include classroom instruction, laboratory instruction, work-based learning, and a Career and Technical Student Organization.
The Northeast Campus features West-MEC’s Automotive Collision Technology, Automotive Technology, General Construction Technology, Medium/Heavy Diesel Technology, Coding, Medical Assisting, Pharmacy Technician, and Veterinary Sciences programs.
Those with specific career aspirations such as Alexia Schuyleman, a senior in the Northeast Campus Veterinary Sciences program, can get a head start on the competition for college after high school graduation. The two-year program she has enrolled in will teach her how to deliver medical care to domestic, exotic and large animals, i.e. cats, dogs, reptiles, and birds.
“I’ve wanted to be a veterinarian since I was five-years-old. Being here and in the profession and having the knowledge is important so when I am working in a clinic, I’ll have that experience to know how I can help right away. That was the biggest thing that drove me to West-MEC,” Schuyleman says.
Veterinary Science students have the opportunity to assist a certified veterinary technician and/or veterinarian in surgery, run laboratory tests, obtain animal vitals, and provide daily care and enrichment to the animals up for adoption. This program prepares students to be a vital part of the veterinary team, working together to save animal lives.
The Veterinary Sciences program is not the only healthcare related certification a student can obtain at West-MEC’s Northeast Campus, either. Students can participate in the Medical Assisting or Pharmacy Technician programs, as well as other trades such as General Construction Technology or Automotive Collision Technology.
Pharmacy Technician program instructor Audrey Stewart said that every graduate of her one-year program is eligible to test and be employed as a pharmacy technician. Should students choose to further their education at a university or pursue additional healthcare-related careers, they will already have an advantage.
“Anyone my age when I describe what I do says, ‘I wish they had that when I was in high school,’ and the amazing part is that the students all have an inkling in what they want to do. I don’t expect them to all come in to be pharmacy technicians for life or to become pharmacists, but they have an interest in healthcare. So, I try to keep it broad so they can have success in whatever they choose to do in the end,” Stewart says.
“The best part is that it gives them flexibility with full-time options with benefits, or part-time while pursuing other options such as college or other education.”
West-MEC’s Northwest campus offers many of the same programs as its sister locations, but a unique aspect of the Northwest Campus is the Biomedical Science program.
“This comprehensive and accelerated program invited students to participate in the vast field of biomedical science including work in forensics, anthropology, biomedical engineering, and more,” says instructor Tye Helm.
Helm adds, “West-MEC’s Biomedical Science program bridges the gap between academics and industry by instilling vital biomedical skills and techniques, core knowledge, and professional soft-skills for students to enter the laboratory technology field prepared. Furthermore, the program follows a student-centric, research-based, teaching paradigm that prepares students for the field in the same manner as leading medical schools in the nation.”
West-MEC’s Northwest campus also offers a Medical Assisting Program for those students interested in healthcare.
The two-year Medical Assisting Program prepares students with the necessary clinical and administrative knowledge to become entry-level medical assistants. Students will receive hands-on training and learn how to properly administer injections, take vital signs, record EKGs, implement basic accounting procedures, and understand the fundamentals of patient documentation.
West-MEC does not limit its instruction to traditional high school students, either. The district offers a variety of adult education courses to those wishing to make a career change or become certified for in-demand job opportunities.
In addition, West-MEC also boasts its Project SEARCH Program. Project SEARCH is an international program that helps empower young adults with disabilities to help them make a successful transition from school into a professional career. Participants are taught relevant, marketable skills while immersed in the working world. Student interns learn applicable job and social skills that help make them valuable employees.
The Project SEARCH students are fully engaged in both classroom and on-the-job learning experiences through worksite rotations, giving them not only knowledge but also confidence to succeed in their future workplaces.
“The steps you see the students take are amazing,” says Job Coach Lyntasha Barrett, whose own daughter went through the program several years ago. “They’re nervous and a bit stressed out at first, but then they blossom into confident and happy adults. And, when they go on to get a job and do well in their careers, it’s a wonderful sight to see.”
West-MEC is a public school district and receives its funding from the state of Arizona. About 68 percent of its funding comes from the state and the remaining 32 percent comes from the CTED (Career and Technical Education District) voter-approved measure. The majority of West-MEC’s instructional budget is designated to 12 Member School Districts that teach satellite programs. This funding helps support CTE programs, Career and Technical Student Organizations training, student grants, and professional development for teachers. The remainder of the funding goes toward West-MEC operated programs.
Applications for all of West-MEC’s CTE programs went online in early October for the next academic year. High school students can access the application online at system.west-mec.org/application.
For a full list of programs at each West-MEC campus, visit west-mec.edu/career-programs.