Getting a jump-start
Lauren Duer

Lauren Duer takes a break from practicing on a Cessna 172 flight simulator at Fort Pierce Central’s aeronautics lab. Duer is one of three Florida students who will attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University on a Marine Corps scholarship. GREG GARDNER PHOTO

Tech-ed classes provide fast track to workforce connections


The sky’s the limit for St. Lucie County students to pursue more than a dozen career opportunities, earn college credit, certifications, receive scholarships and make contacts to find work in their hometown after high school.

More than 4,500 Career and Technical Education (CTE) students are mentored across six high schools in the disciplines of accounting, aeronautics, agriculture, automotive, biotechnology, carpentry, criminal justice, culinary, drafting, engineering media, medicine and veterinary.

After graduating from Fort Pierce Central High school and its aeronautics program, Lauren Duer will attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University this fall on one of three Marine Corps scholarships awarded to Florida students. “I have wanted to fly since my freshman year when the program opened my eyes to aviation,” said Duer, a dual-enrollment student who plays soccer and is a member of the Civil Air Patrol. “I learned the basics of aviation. It exposed me to like-minded people and has given me different contacts. Dr. Adkins (instructor) was a good mentor. He gave me the feedback I needed to be my best.”

Duer said she will pursue a career in the Marine Corps as a helicopter pilot and hopes one day to be a test pilot. Kevin Adkins is an assistant professor at Embry-Riddle, who has taught at Central for six years. A former Air Force A-10 pilot, Adkins mentors 210 students in the core courses of space, meteorology, robotics, engineering and unmanned aerial systems (drones).

“This program builds a strong foundation in science and math,” Adkins said. “It is a chance to explore a potential degree or career and they can earn a college transcript and save money. Sixty percent of my students are interested in engineering, 30 percent in professional aviation and 10 percent are here for the challenge.”

The students build drones and fly them behind the school in a specially constructed, netted cage. Other students hone flying skills piloting different aircraft on simulators. Everyone in the group flying a drone wanted to go to Embry-Riddle.

With 1,200 students each, the Allied Health and Culinary Arts programs are the most popular with criminal justice third. Except for Lincoln Park Academy, the other five high schools offer five different medical certifications.

Lindsey Porth Healy, 32, earned her nurse practitioner degree at the age of 23, which may well be a record for the state of Florida. Sixth in her class at St. Lucie West Centennial High School, Porth Healy fast-tracked her schooling (including summers) after entering the Allied Health program as a freshman, receiving her associate of arts degree through dual enrollment at Indian River State College while earning her nursing bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the same time from Florida Atlantic University.

“It was a fantastic program,” said Porth Healy, who recently gave birth to a daughter, Leila. “I knew what I wanted to do and I didn’t want to go to school forever. I wanted to settle down and have a family, but I knew I needed a good career. The program lets young people know if that’s the career they want. It let me see what I was getting into before I got to college. Students often change their paths so I couldn’t waste time or my parents’ money.”

Porth Healy works in St. Lucie County for Rheumatology Associates specializing in infectious diseases.

Jesse Strell was a student of chef Calvin Lewis at Centennial and teaches the Culinary Arts program at Central. Except for Lincoln Park, the other five high schools offer three certifications.

An Air Force veteran with 12 years at Centennial, Lewis is far more concerned about creating food safety awareness than producing the next superstar chef. “It only takes two people to have an outbreak,” Lewis said. “Dirty people are the No. 1 problem. They learn how to look out for people’s food. They learn how to do it at home or in a restaurant. And they can teach others. What they get is survivability skills. We don’t push them to be chefs. I tell them work is hard. Life isn’t a lie. You tell them the truth, that it is not easy.”

In 2009, the Centennial culinary team won the Florida high school Food Knowledge Bowl and placed 10th at the national competition in San Diego. “They said I took them to the competition, but they took me to the competition,” Lewis said.

During a recent luncheon for Young Floridian candidates, Lewis’ advanced students prepared and delivered banquet-style meals to 25 people. “Absolutely awesome,” said Lewis, directing the operation. “Let’s get this out while it’s hot.” The future chefs worked like a team as the food came out and was plated for appearance before serving. “We mimic the industry,” he said. It was a tasty entrée of crunchy chicken piccata, with vegetables including a red potato carved to look like a mushroom.

Sgt. Janelle Lopez went through the criminal justice program at Treasure Coast High School and is a Marine intelligence specialist, martial arts instructor and one of 12 women chosen from 40 to be assigned to a combat unit as an assaultman. “The program opened doors for me,” Lopez said. “People believed in me. If you have the heart you can do anything. It opened a huge mindset for me and gave me the confidence to keep pushing myself.”

“Our students can earn nine college credits and two different certifications so they can begin working before they leave high school,” said Leinitia Robinson, who is an instructor at Treasure Coast and an adjunct professor at IRSC.

Criminal justice programs and three certifications are also offered at Centennial and Central with some basic courses available at Fort Pierce Westwood High School. Students can intern, volunteer, ride with police officers, go on field trips, and hear speakers from law enforcement. They learn everything from proper traffic stops to crime scene identification and can be certified to work in legal and security jobs.

John Nick is a 27-year-old design and release engineer for General Motors in Detroit. “Drafting started my inclination to think on a technical level,” said Nick, who took his drafting classes at Port St. Lucie High School. “It was drawing small parts designing buildings and blueprints for houses. My college classes were much easier to grasp.” Nick hopes to pursue a master’s degree while continuing with GM.

Ashley Malivert is a freshman at Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. Her house blueprints in her Port St. Lucie drafting class led to five scholarships at the prestigious school. “The drafting program taught me everything I know,” Malivert said.

After a previous internship, she will be paid this summer at the same architecture firm in downtown West Palm Beach. “It was hands-on, no filing,” she said. “They trusted me enough to let me take field measurements and meet with clients and contractors.” Malivert is taking the six- to seven-year route to graduate early and take the certification test to become an architect.

Janie Diebold is a sophomore at Port St. Lucie, who wants to be an architect. “The program taught me the language of architecture and how houses are put together,” she said. “It gives me more expertise in the field. I want to build houses.”

John Piccharini has been a technical design teacher at Port St. Lucie for 28 years, watching the program evolve from mechanical drawing by hand to 3-D modeling and computer aided drafting.

“My focus is to give them the spark to create and pursue their passions,” Piccharini said. “The field of drafting encompasses all areas of industry and the fundamentals of how things go from being a creative idea to the reality of mechanical objects.”

Jaeda Williams is a media services graphic designer for St. Lucie County Public Schools, who earned her associate degree through dual enrollment between Lincoln Park and IRSC. Part of her job is overseeing students as they set up lighting, camera and sound for TV productions at their schools.

Williams said the digital media program “pretty much gave me the options in choosing a career and how to apply the certifications to use in the real world. It set a standard as far as media and I know what is acceptable for quality.” Just 18 months away from earning her bachelor’s degree, Williams plans to continue working for the county while earning a master’s degree online.

Through the digital media program students can earn seven certifications and college credits at Treasure Coast, Central and Lincoln Park, where instructor Gena Harriman’s students have gone on to earn as much as $20,000 a year in college by bidding on and completing freelance jobs.

Her students have gone on to teach digital media at private and public schools. “Anytime students do something to benefit society, that is much more powerful and technology is second place,” Harriman said.

Samuel Barbuto, 25, has managed an auto repair shop and works on tractor-trailers and construction machines. His three years in the automotive program at Port St. Lucie High led him to the conclusion he would need an associate degree from IRSC, which he earned while working in his field full time.

“If you don’t have credentials, no one will give you a shot,” Barbuto said. “I’m not a book person, but it (program) made me want to come to school more. It opened doors that wouldn’t have opened. They give you a little bit of everything. You have to know the basics. It benefited me immediately. You put to use what you learned.”

Automotive programs offer three certifications at Centennial, Central and Port St. Lucie. “We offer entry level skills to enter the automotive industry as an apprentice,” said Robert Rosbury, who has taught at Port St. Lucie for 28 years. “They learn preventative maintenance and how to make simple repairs. There is a lot of crossover with mechanical skills transferred to other areas.”

He said 10 percent of his students go into the automotive business, but others have gone on to careers as doctors, surgeons, engineers, plumbers, welders, electricians and nuclear engineers.

Recruited through an eighth-grade “attractor” program, Bryce Deans lives in Port St. Lucie, but attends Westwood High School for the agriculture program. He is in dual enrollment, works 30 hours a week as an inventory specialist at a farm machinery company and takes care of his steer named Rooster.

“I like machinery and working with large animals,” Deans said. “This program teaches you a lot of responsibility.” Deans hopes to attend the University of Florida.

“Future Farmers of America is not all about sows, cows and plows, but rather beakers, speakers and job seekers,” third-year Westwood agriculture teacher Jenna McDaniel said. The class is divided between plants and animals with some students walking from nearby neighborhoods to feed their animals on the campus. “The seniors kind of run the show. Freshmen take the class as an elective, but 95 percent of the students have no previous agriculture background. It’s hands-on and they learn leadership skills, career development and public speaking as they become advocates for the agriculture industry.” Westwood also hosts the county’s only veterinary program.

CTE programs are funded through St. Lucie Public Schools annual budget, but a $500,000 grant this year from the state paid for teacher training, equipment and supplies. The not-for-profit St. Lucie County Education Foundation created a mentoring program called STAR Scholars and Workforce Readiness matching local businesses to industry specific CTE courses. The goal is to help struggling students stay in school and graduate work-ready with high paying local jobs. Lexus of the Treasure Coast and St. Lucie Battery and Tire mentor students in the automotive program.

“We believe in growing the whole child with foundational skills,” said Michael Carbenia, CTE director. “We build our talent pipeline, capturing them in middle school with virtual tours of the programs and we let them talk to high school students.”

Ninety-seven percent of CTE students graduate from St. Lucie County high schools, Carbenia said.

See the original article in the print publication

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