Editor's note: Claire Hoogenboom is a broadcast major studying journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Arizona State University.
The East Valley Institute of Technology is a Joint Technical Education District, or vocational school, located in Mesa.
The term “vocational school” comes with a certain stigma. A stigma that implies it’s a place for the bad kids, a place for lazy kids, a place for the incompetent students. While it's possible that may have been true in the past, but EVIT Media Marketing teacher Eric Perez says that stigma has lived far beyond it’s time.
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“There is this stigma where [people] think that only that bad kids come to JTEDS, or only the kids who can’t excel in the honors classes at the home high school come to the JTEDS. And that’s not true anymore. We have honors students, we have students that go above and beyond...that are here at EVIT.”
The East Valley Institute of Technology is a school for kids who want to find their passion. It’s a place that encourages teenagers to try new things, learn what they like, what they don’t like, and most of all, gain experience and skills that will put them years above their peers.
“We’re not trying to keep it a secret. We’re trying to show that we are doing something correctly.”
When I arrived at the EVIT, I was operating under the misconception that it was a place to where those who don't fit in elsewhere were sent, a place for the miscreant teenagers, because there is nowhere else for them to go.
I left EVIT very jealous of the kids who are smart enough to take advantage of the school’s programs, and kicking myself for not doing the same when I was in high school.
Bruce Johnston, head of the 3-D Game Animation program, told me, “The whole point of being in high school is to find out what you are passionate about, and then pursue it.”
Really? Because that is not the message I got in high school. I remember it being about SATs, college, a bunch of classes I didn’t want to take, what’s your GPA, anxiety, hormones, and anxiously waiting for the bell to ring because I would do just about anything to make trigonometry end.
I was an average high school student. It’s not I was a bad kid, a lazy kid, or a stupid kid. I was just a passionless one, which, by Eric Perez’s standards, was my problem.
“If you have that passion, and you have that fun enthusiasm, you can make any field successful and fun. It’s all about enjoying what you do,” he said.
It took a year and a half of drifting through college before I got to take videography, and from there discover my passion for video production and storytelling. Now, all I do is gush about how my major is the best major ever in the existence of majors.
As much as I love my major and program, going to Brian Turner’s video production class at EVIT made me a little jealous as his student, Nate Doelling, told me what I had missed out on in high school.
“I think EVIT takes the fun and information to an entirely different level. Video Production at, say, (a local high school), is not anywhere near close to this.”
As Turner and I look at the work his classes have produced, he says, “The foundation is there.” From stop animation to a parody of cops, it’s all great. Every video I watched, I wished a little bit more that I could have built the same foundation in high school instead of taking AP statistics.
He adds, “At universities, they have beautiful equipment. But kids aren’t allowed to touch it until maybe their junior year. Here, they get to use the equipment and produce their own stuff.”
Although I wasn’t exposed to video cameras until my second year in college, I still consider myself one of the lucky ones. I have friends who are seniors and graduating this May with little to no plan post-college.
Johnston started the 3-D animation program at EVIT with hopes of giving students at the high school level a little more direction by the time they reach college.
“The reason I started this program...was because I saw students out of high school, looking for something to do..and they sign on the dotted line for huge loans to go to school … because game design sounded cool. And then they would find out that’s not really what they would want to do or they have no aptitude for it. So when I brought the program over here, I thought, “If I can get a high school student, and I can expose them to something at this level now, that when they go on to college, they know exactly what they want to get out of it, and when they do that, they are better qualified at the end.”
According to his student, Rae Zevira, his program is working.
“Before [EVIT], I had no idea what I wanted to do. Now, I definitely know and have that drive for it. I have my whole future planned out, and I’ve already learned the basic skills here and I’m ready to go to college to expand on them,” she said.
Eric Perez knows how valuable direction and experience is. “By doing the actual projects, kids are getting experience. And experience is key. It’s liquid gold, liquid money on your resume.”
While traditional schools are focusing on SATs and calculus, Perez says EVIT is focusing on the industries it’s students will be entering.
“We let the industries come in and we build the curriculum around their needs. We are turning out students who can provide whatever service is needed, no matter what industry,” he said.
Optional author's comment: The East Valley Institute of technology has the things many high schools need: knowledgeable teachers, amazing resources, and above all, the kind of passion that would make anyone want to show up to class.
EVIT is a school for all kids.