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  • Pima Vocational High School student turning dreams into reality

    Aug 22, 2019 | Read More News
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    When Pima Vocational High School graduate Matthew Ramirez stepped out of his comfort zone, he didn’t think it would be into a room of 1,000 people. But life sometimes throws challenges at you that you’re convinced you can’t handle.

    Until you do.

    Ramirez, who had a spotty attendance record at his former high school because of difficulty with large class sizes, thrived at Pima Vocational, a school-to-work accredited charter school operated by Pima County’s Community Services, Employment and Training Department, where the focus is small class sizes and equipping students with sustainable job skills and a career plan. 

    At PVHS, Ramirez was quickly drawn to the school’s Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) curriculum. Offered through Microsoft Philanthropies, the program helps high schools throughout the U.S. and British Columbia build and grow sustainable computer science programs by pairing Matthew Ramirezindustry volunteers with partner teachers, particularly those at schools unable to offer rigorous computer science courses on their own.

    With TEALS, Ramirez quickly discovered that his affinity for tinkering with his smart phone and creating small-scale video games could be turned into a viable career. When Ramirez gave a presentation with his fellow graduating seniors on his career plan, he said he’d like to pursue a career in the field of video game development.

    That got Joe Casey, who has taught at PVHS since 2015, thinking. The school’s TEALS coordinator, Dan Stormont, regularly asked for feedback on whether TEALS was causing students to consider computer science as a career. 

    “After Matthew’s presentation, I contacted Dan to let him know about Matthew’s plans,” Casey said. He wasn’t expecting much of a reaction, “but within a day or so, Dan asked if Matthew would be interested in attending the Computer Science Teacher Association (CSTA) annual convention in Phoenix as part of a discussion panel regarding student perspectives on computer science.”

    At first, Ramirez was overwhelmed and said no. “Then his curiosity started taking over,” Casey recalled. When Ramirez’s mother was unable to drive him to the July convention, it appeared his trip was doomed. He asked his teacher what he should do.

    “I spoke as a dad and coach more than as a teacher,” Casey said. “My point was that as a parent, I would encourage my children to participate because the experience is so far outside the scope of a typical student and that the courage needed to participate would change their perception of themselves for a lifetime.”

    Luckily, Ramirez agreed. Ultimately, the insights he offered during the panel discussion caused several teachers in the audience to approach him after the session to offer hugs and to ask permission to quote him on Twitter.

    The TEALS class, which has been offered at PVHS since 2017-18, provides an incentive for students to do well in their other classes. They can only be enrolled in TEALS if their attendance is good, they’re passing all other classes and they are recommended by their teachers.  

    Casey and his fellow teachers are finding that students who have completed a TEALS class have a much higher degree of self-confidence than they had prior to the class.  

    “Computer programming provides instant feedback,” Casey explained. “If the student gets an expected response in return, that student’s self-image improves substantially. If an error is returned, you’ve got to troubleshoot to correct the code. Solving several small problems in written code is often more gratifying than solving one big problem.”

    A trip to Phoenix may not mean much to some people, but for Ramirez, the convention experience was life-changing.

    “Going outside my comfort zone. Doing something I’ve never done before,” were just a few of the descriptors Ramirez used when reflecting on the convention.
    In September, Ramirez will take that newfound confidence to the next level when he starts a six-month, paid internship with Pima County’s Information Technology Department.

    “In the workplace, if the boss tasks me with a big job, I'll now have the confidence to get it done,” Ramirez said.

    Pima Vocational High School has campuses at 175 W. Irvington Road and at 5025 W. Ina Road. The next academic session begins Sept. 3. To reserve a spot at a mandatory two-day orientation, call 520-724-9740.