Chasing the Dream: J-TEDS

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In our continuing series on the American Dream and poverty, we take a look at one way to capture that dream. J-TEDs, or Joint Technical Education Districts, provide high school students with a chance to learn skills like cosmetology or the culinary arts.

Ted Simons: Chasing the dream. Poverty and opportunity in America. An ongoing public media reporting initiative that looks at the state of the American dream with emphasis on the changing nature of jobs, vanishing middle class, wage is it parity and economic opportunity. Tonight we look at J-Teds, joint technical education districts. They provide high school students with an opportunity to learn real world skills an in everything from aerospace to cosmetology. Producer Shana Fischer and Photographer Steve Aron introduces us to the culinary arts program that is dishing up a recipe for success.

Video: Hi. I want these cut up --

Abril Rodriguez: Okay. Like doing this?

Video: While most classmates are sleeping in, high school senior Abril Rodriguez is hard at work.

Abril Rodriguez: I like school, so I wanted to continue learning. I wanted to do a little bit of both. I was looking into careers I could do with culinary, science and math.

Video: Careers through culinary arts program, a nationwide nonprofit that works in conjunction with high school culinary programs.

Video: Chef Nicole Shwartz is the culinary coordinator.

Nicole Swartz: We work with juniors and seniors in high school. We are a job development program. We work with placing high school students into postsecondary schools. We award scholarships.

Video: Today Abril and five others are manning the veggie valet booth at the uptown farmers market. Customers who have bought produce can bring it to the booth where the students clean it and cut it up any way they wish for free.

Nicole Swartz: It's one of our after school programs. This is a paid internship for the students. This gets them the basic foundation, the skills that they need to get into this industry. Beyond the knife skills we really focus on the basics of getting a job. You need to show up on time. You need to understand that when a schedule is posted you need to be there.

Video: As a C-cap graduate herself Chef Shwartz knows how beneficial the program can be.

Nicole Swartz: I was the typical senior who had no idea what I wanted to do when I graduated. This program actually really helped me find my way. So it was a lot of fun.

Video: She spent several years in restaurant kitchens in Arizona and Maui before deciding to teach full-time.

Sacha Levine: It came in frozen, so we'll get it tomorrow.

Video: Chef Sacha Levine is also a graduate. She recently opened her own place, Ocotillo. She grew up in bullhead city, not necessarily known for its food, but she said her mom always made sure good food was on the table. Levine said she was a good be student but had no idea what she wanted to do for a living. She credits C-cap for helping her on the path to success.

Sacha Levine: In hindsight I really had no idea. Like as a young person it's hard to wrap your head around, oh, my gosh, this is the rest of my life. This industry can be very grueling if you let it be. It's helped me to push myself and it also was almost like a support system in the fact that I had people helping me propel me into my future.

Video: Chef Levine has also mentored C-cap students and says the program provides opportunities that are vocationally meaningful.

Sacha Levine: Those kids are there helping out. Just like the fact that they are already at such a young age being able to interact with you as a fantastic chef, being able to, you know, see things hands on, it's just such a good -- accelerator.

Video: C-cap is also providing something else. A pipeline of necessary talent into Arizona's work force. Kim Sabow is the president of the Arizona lodging and tourism association. The member-driven group's mission is to advocate for the hospitality industry.

Kim Sabow: Direct visitor spending in Arizona last year was over $20 billion. in direct visitor spending. As far as jobs go, it's one of the leading economic engines for the state employing 320,000 people.

Video: She says there's a high turnover rate in this industry. She believes programs like C-cap can help alleviate that.

Kim Sabow: The opportunities are endless. They are varied and they are vast. Again, we need to be focusing on constantly filling that pipeline of talent that will provide the work force moving forward for one of the state's largest industries.

Video: Meanwhile, Abril is getting ready to graduate high school. She wanted to be a neurosurgeon but she is combining the two fields. She participated in the cooking competition and earned a full scholarship to Johnson and Wales culinary program. She plans to study how food affects the brain.

Abril Rodriguez: Do something you enjoy. If you know that, do it instead of waking up every morning, oh, I have to go to work. It's not work if you enjoy it. That's what I see it.

Ted Simons: For more information on C-cap visit their website, That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you for joining us. You have a great evening.

Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Arizona PBS, members of your PBS station. Thank you.

Video: Funding for chasing the dream is provided by the JPB foundation and the Ford foundation.

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