Apache Junction High School has become the third campus of the East Valley Institute of Technology with close to 500 students taking classes in diverse subjects such as culinary arts and welding.
School officials foresee the program extending its offerings and eventually welcoming students from as far away as Globe.
“EVIT is a great school, but the main campus is a half-hour ride for our kids by bus,” said Apache Junction High School Principal Larry LaPrise, referring to the school’s main campus at 1601 W. Main St. in Mesa.
“When you are a kid, an hour round trip by bus is a lot of time.”
The new EVIT branch allows students to take core classes at Apache Junction High School, then walk over to buildings that have been set up for EVIT classes. Remaining on their own high-school campus also is a plus for students involved in sports or other after-school activities.
EVIT spokeswoman CeCe Todd said the district’s main and east Mesa campuses are not at capacity, but having a third location is still a plus.
“EVIT’s afternoon classes are more crowded on both (the main and east Mesa) campuses because school districts prefer to bus their students to EVIT for the afternoon session,” Todd said. “We are currently working with districts to send more buses in the mornings so that our enrollment is more equally distributed between morning and afternoon.
“There is still room for change and growth at both campuses. Most EVIT programs are market-driven and created to fill local business and industry needs. So, as needs change, some programs are added and others may be dropped. And, build-out is continuing at the newer east campus, where, for example, plans are in the works to eventually expand the growing veterinary-assistant program.”
Apache Junction Unified School District Superintendent Chad Wilson said the idea for the Apache Junction EVIT branch came about during a discussion he had with EVIT Superintendent Sally Downey two years ago. Both are interested in growing their enrollments.
Wilson said his district has struggled with declining student enrollment since the Great Recession. Some families that moved to Apache Junction during the housing boom a decade ago lost their homes during the economic downturn and moved away. Others lost jobs in the area and left.
Wilson said the district’s enrollment has declined 5.5 percent in the past five years, to 4,700 students. Because state funding is based on enrollment, the district is struggling.
Offering EVIT classes in business management, early-childhood development, culinary arts, sports medicine, photography, construction and welding did not boost enrollment at the start of the school year, but Wilson and LaPrise are optimistic about the future.
“I would like to see students from Globe, Superior, Gold Canyon and unincorporated parts of Pinal County,” LaPrise said. “Also, we would welcome charter-school and home-schooled students. I don’t know of many home-school students that learn welding.”
EVIT has taken over paying the salaries of five full-time career and technology teachers who formerly were employed by Apache Junction schools. Apache Junction, meanwhile, has made rent-free space and equipment available for the EVIT classes.
LaPrise said the two school districts already are making expansion plans for next year. A former storage area will become a larger welding shop and unused space near the culinary-arts kitchen will become a student-run cafe next school year.
Eventually, LaPrise said, he would like to see a new building house EVIT medical-training programs on his campus.
LaPrise said it was not difficult to get 488 Apache Junction High School juniors and seniors to sign up for career and technical classes. All Apache Junction High School sophomores are required to take a career and technology class, so LaPrise said he encouraged students last year to sign up for more advanced EVIT classes this year.
The most popular EVIT class in Apache Junction is culinary arts, but school officials say welding and construction also draw many students who hope to put the skills to work in their careers.
Welding “was kind of scary at first,” said junior Luis Cruz, 16, who said he hopes to learn the skill well enough to use it in his family’s construction business. “If you keep at it you have a skill you can use for life.”
Junior Anthony Garcia, 17, already has plans to study business at Arizona State University but he enrolled in welding for a skill that he can use at his father’s auto-repair shop. “It’s been fun,” he said.
Business management teacher Erik Nesheim, meanwhile, is developing a business class that will give EVIT students at Apache Junction credits that count toward their math graduation requirement. He hopes the Apache Junction schools governing board will approve the class and credits by the next school year.
Arizona high schools require students to take four years of math to graduate. Although some students want to take calculus, pre-calculus or statistics in their senior year, others would prefer math skills that immediately apply to running a business, Nesheim said.
“My students are already learning about balance sheets, income statements and how to calculate profit and loss,” said Nesheim, who was a vice president at a Tempe electronic-payments company called Vital Processing before becoming a teacher eight years ago. His program teaches high-school students how to run their own small businesses.
Wilson said he believes many students will find the class Nesheim is developing to be more practical than pre-calculus.
“There are some kids who have math aptitude but want to engage with math that has a real-world application,” Wilson said.
The East Valley Institute of Technology now has three campuses. About 2,900 students attend classes at the main campus in Mesa, about 735 study at an east Mesa campus adjacent to ASU Polytechnic Campus and nearly 500 study in Apache Junction.
The school has 50 instructors on its main campus, 15 at the east campus and five full-time faculty in Apache Junction.
EVIT’s School of Health Sciences on the main campus has the most students enrolled at nearly 1,000.