CAVIT Veterinary Science Program Earns Top State Award
Every year the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) selects only one career and technical education program in the state for the Golden Bell Promise Program Award. On December 16, the ASBA presented Central Arizona Valley Institute of Technology’s veterinary science program with the prestigious honor.
This is the second golden bell for the veterinary program at CAVIT since 2013.
According to the ASBA, the golden bell award was created as a way to spotlight districts and programs “with a proven record of achieving excellence through their educational initiatives.”
As stated in the list of criteria for the award, the ASBA was looking for educational programs that are student-oriented and show significant improvement in student growth and success as well as demonstrating district leadership and commitment to educational equity and excellent outcomes for all students.
Co-teachers Christina Chatham and Nadine Kerstetter had no idea that Superintendent Mike Glover had submitted them for the award until they received word they had won, just days before they were to accept it at the ASBA-Arizona School Administrators annual conference that Friday.
“We were not thinking about it at all,” said Chatham. “We found out after it was a done deal, which was nice, so that we didn’t have to worry about it."
“All of the (program and student) data was submitted by our superintendent.”
Chatham and Kerstetter took over the program together in 2018. As instructors, they are required to maintain their veterinary technician statuses and certification by continuing their work in local hospitals and clinics.
Currently, Chatham works part-time as a mobile veterinary technician with Pinal County Animal Control and as an emergency relief technician with a local animal hospital. Kerstetter is also a technician with Pinal County Animal Control. Their primary patients are shelter animals and some can even be seen on the CAVIT campus, thanks to their premiere license as a facility.
Though they are both passionate and skilled technicians, they know not all of their students choose the veterinary science program to follow that same path.
“We really focus on veterinary assisting. But (also) the multiple pathways like dog training; I have students that want to go into the military and work with animals,” said Kerstetter. “So it’s kind of finding out what each student wants out of life and helping them in those directions.”
“It’s not a one size fits all,” said Chatham.
If a student shows interest in a niche field or other area of interest adjacent to veterinary sciences, they’ll often give their students the go-ahead to find ways to explore that in class. Recently, Kerstetter said her first-year students invited a professor of ecology studies at Washington State University to be a guest speaker for one class session.
“That’s what they were interested in and that’s who they targeted,” she said. “So it was really cool to see all of that. And honestly I learn something from my kids every day when we group together like that and just go out into these different career pathways and pull information in.”
Preparing students for the post-graduation academic program or job search is embedded into their curriculum, the teachers say.
“Everything we do has a heavy emphasis on finding the correct path for that student, because what’s right for one student is not going to be right for another,” said Chatham. “We really want them to find a career that’s going to feed their soul.”
Each year, the two teachers swap teaching first- and second-year veterinary science so that they can stay and become more familiar with their group as they progress through the program. Chatham said student career aspirations can change frequently as they work from one level to the next.
Career aspirations begin to solidify as the students work through 100 hours or more of externing at Pinal County Animal Control at Eleven Mile Corner where they are able to shadow veterinarians; provide husbandry to shelter animals; complete surgery preparation; take blood, urine, and fecal samples; and much more.
After working closely with the shelter animals, students may find themselves drawn toward the animal welfare sector considering work as an adoption coordinator, kennel technician, pet groomer, animal trainer, or animal control officer.
Students will also become familiar and knowledgeable in a variety of veterinary support staff roles such as clinic receptionist, technician, assistant, or manager in their bi-monthly, free animal clinics hosted by the program on campus. Superintendent Glover reported that CAVIT students have earned a 97.5% average rating on their customer service skills from public exit surveys from these clinics.
Regardless of what area of work students decide to pursue upon graduation from the program, many students will qualify for national accreditation with the National Veterinary Assistant Technicians of America allowing them to work in clinics straight out of high school while they pursue an undergraduate degree or certification in other fields.
According to Glover, CAVIT was the first program in Arizona to gain this accreditation status, graduating 94 students with approved veterinary assistant industry certification to date.
Many students are also earning up to 10 free credits at either Pima Community College or Central Arizona College while they complete their CAVIT program. “Being a CTED, we track student placement data,” wrote Glover in an email to Pinal Central. “We’re thrilled to report that several of our first cohort of students have become doctors of veterinary medicine!”
This list of achievements continues with the program being the recipient of a number of state and national medals from competitive skills events hosted by Health Occupations Students of America and inducting over 70 students into the National Technical Honor Society since 2011.
“I think the big thing is we just help our students find opportunities that work for them,” said Chatham.
“And getting job experience, something to build a resume. They have an educational resume (when they join)” said Kerstetter, but the program seeks to build on their knowledge of drafting a well-rounded and accurate professional resume.
She explained a scenario of a student unknowingly leaving off experience as a team captain at school, which could’ve highlighted their leadership abilities. “You need to put those things on there,” she told the student, “and we’re going to add to it when we’re here because they get CPR certified, they get pet CPR certified.”
Once their alumni are released into the professional world, Kerstetter and Chatham will often have the opportunity to work alongside them.
“I’ve got a few of mine working down here at the hospital, so I kind of see them on a regular basis,” said Kerstetter.
“I actually still work part-time at a hospital in San Tan Valley and two of my former students and one of my current students works there,” said Chatham. “So, it is really nice being able to see those students being successful and knowing you had a part to play in that.”
Kerstetter describes the veterinary world as like an extended family and encourages her students to make professional connections as soon as possible - whether it be the guest speakers that attend class or the veterinarians they currently shadow from the University of Arizona.
One professional connection both teachers are glad they have made is with one another throughout these last five years.
“We just work extremely well together. We balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses and everything we do together we do for the good of the program,” said Chatham. “I could not imagine a different co-teacher.”
They both feel it is validating to see their efforts recognized at such a large scale with the presentation of the award.