Ahead of the Class

Ahead of the Class
A Record Number of AISD's Graduating Class Earn a Competitive Edge Along with Their Diploma

With just days left in his high school career, Brysan Spruell doesn’t have to worry about spinning his wheels while deciding what to do with his future. The Amarillo Area Center for Advance Learning (AACAL) and Amarillo High senior has the next two years of his automotive technology education mapped out and a guaranteed full-time job when he graduates college with an associate’s degree. Brysan credits the leadership of AACAL’s auto-tech program with being the catalyst for his career and helping him secure a slot in the competitive General Motors Automotive Service Education Program (GM ASEP) at New Mexico Junior College (NMJC). “It’s crazy how much just going to AACAL has helped me achieve,” he says. “They helped me get my plan in play and get everything set up. All I had to do is the hard work and not step off the path they helped me set, so I can actually fulfill what I want to do with my life.”

AACAL Auto Technology Students Work on a Rebuild

As part of the “earn while you learn” philosophy of the GM ASEP, Brysan starts work this week at an Autonation Chevrolet dealership where he already spent time this year as a Pursuing Real Opportunities (PRO) intern. For the next two years, Brysan will rotate—eight weeks at the dealership, followed by eight weeks in the classroom at NMJC.   When he finishes, Brysan will have a full-time position at the dealership. Thanks to an opportunity to earn the industry standard certification for automotive expertise while at AACAL, Brysan will be a full-year ahead of his peers.  “I took the ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) test for maintenance and light repair,” he says. “Having the ASE certification, it means I have one full year of experience in an automotive shop, so I’m a year closer to being able to do those bigger jobs and make more money.”

Brysan is one of more than 300 Amarillo ISD students—a number that has doubled in the last five years-- who earned professional certifications this year along with their high school diploma, with more set to test in the coming weeks. All AISD high schools offer some certification opportunities that align with the state’s career and technical education (CTE) endorsement requirements for high school graduates, ranging from four certification options at Tascosa to 11 at AACAL. There are software certifications in fields like architecture, engineering and graphics design, metalworking and welding certifications, and ServSafe—the restaurant industry standard for food safety and handling. Certifications in allied health careers enable students to work as EMTs, certified nursing or medical assistants, or certified EKG technicians, right out of high school.  Making the unique-to-AISD opportunity even more elite is the District’s requirement that teachers must hold an industry certification before they can test students. “AISD is fortunate to have teachers who have gone the extra mile to get their certification and help students be successful on the exams,” says AISD CTE Director, LeAnn Estep.

Caprock High School Class of 2016 Senior Walk

At AACAL, AISD’s specialty high school, the number of certificates earned by students this year tripled to 148 certifications in 13 programs, with another eight students scheduled to take the EMT certification test soon. AACAL Principal Jay Barrett says the campus’ 96 percent passing rate among certification tests represents a very intentional effort on the part of students and teachers. “From day one, basically the seniors’ entire year was focused on taking the certifications and passing them so they can take those with them with then graduate and go to work right away if they need to, or work themselves through college. And what’s interesting is 99 percent of AACAL students said in their ‘Senior Departure Survey’ they’re going on to college. Eighty-percent of them will go on to study in college what they started here at AACAL, with more studying a related field.”  

Whichever path they choose to career, students with a certification in their portfolio, says Jay, will have a clear edge in the job market. “When you’re competing with other students for a job and you can produce a certificate and they can’t, that gives you a clear advantage because you have a proven record of your abilities going into any job that certificate applies to.”

For Brysan, his time at AACAL taught him the nuts and bolts of automotive repair, and the ASE certification he now holds gives him a jump start in a highly competitive, in-demand career field. “Without it, I’d just be starting from the bottom,” says Brysan. “Being this far ahead gave me more motivation than I ever thought possible.”


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