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‘The foundation of CTE’

Success Via Apprenticeship program produces leaders
New York Teacher
The foundation in CTE
Jonathan Fickies

SVA graduate Mike DiMartino (standing), who teaches graphic design at his alma mater, McKee HS on Staten Island, helps a student design the senior class hoodie. DiMartino’s teacher and mentor at McKee was Leo Gordon (inset), now the UFT vice president for career and technical education.

The foundation in CTE
Jonathan Fickies

Success Via Apprenticeship (SVA) graduate Gerard D’Ambrosio (second from right) gives a lesson on mounting and balancing tires to students in the automotive technology program at Tottenville HS. 

Each year since 1984, several graduates of the city’s Career and Technical Education programs are nominated by teachers for the Success Via Apprenticeship (SVA) program, which combines college courses with apprenticeships in classrooms and in each student’s chosen industry to prepare them, over five years, to teach in CTE programs.

“SVAs are the foundation of career and technical education in New York City,” said Leo Gordon, the UFT vice president for CTE. “The SVA program marries technical skills with expert pedagogical practice to ensure instructors give students industry-standard experiences every day.”

A collaborative effort of the city Department of Education, the UFT and the City University of New York, the program prepares prospective educators using mentored teaching, industry internships and college courses at CUNY’s New York City College of Technology.

Apprentices are UFT members and get a good salary and benefits. The DOE covers 44 credits of tuition for required courses.

“The SVA program is the only one of its kind in the country where collective bargaining has established and protects the rights and benefits of teachers-in-training to ensure the sustainability of CTE,” said Gordon.

The SVA program has produced not only teachers, but teachers who became school principals and other CTE leaders. Gordon is a graduate of the SVA program as was his predecessor, Sterling Roberson, a member of the program’s inaugural class. John Widlund, another program graduate, became the principal of several CTE high schools and was the executive director of CTE education for the DOE from 2015 to 2020.

The program is a unique opportunity for a student who loves a trade but also would love to teach it.

Mike DiMartino, an SVA graduate, has been teaching graphic design for five years at McKee HS on Staten Island, where he went to high school and had Gordon as a teacher. After graduating from high school, he studied graphic design at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

“My experience at McKee really propelled me at Pratt, putting me light years ahead of students in my class,” said DiMartino. “I was teaching them the software in our free time, and I just loved the teaching part and seeing them improve.”

When DiMartino realized he wanted to teach, he reached out to Gordon. The SVA program is available to CTE graduates for two years after high school, so he entered it just before the deadline after earning an associate’s degree at Pratt.

It can be challenging to get industry experience, DiMartino said. But during the program, students work full time for a year in their chosen industry, either at positions they find themselves or with SVA partners. “The program allows you to find a place that may be close to your home or somewhere you really want to work,” he said. “I worked at a few different places that utilized my skill as a graphic designer.”

Gerard D’Ambrosio, who teaches automotive technology at Tottenville HS on Staten lsland, is the longest-serving SVA graduate currently teaching. He was appointed in 1992 at his alma mater, Grady HS in Brooklyn.

D’Ambrosio said the SVA program gave him the opportunity to be mentored by teachers he had admired as a student. “When I went back to Grady, I worked alongside the teachers who taught me, and for them to teach me how to teach, it made my job so much better,” he said.

D’Ambrosio said the SVA program prepared him to deal with the many different scenarios that teachers face. “I got to see how other teachers handled certain situations and learned their teaching styles,” he said. “I was able to pick and choose things I liked about how each mentor taught.”

One mentor still influences D’Ambrosio. “I’m doing this job for 36 years and I still use the lesson plan format I got from one mentor,” he said. “With the changes in education standards, I had to add to it, but I still use the same format.”

Karina Budhu, a first-year SVA in information technology, got to know two SVAs when she attended Thomas A. Edison CTE HS in Queens. “I saw how successful they were, specifically women of color in the industry, and I thought it was very admirable,” Budhu said. She decided to emulate them.

Budhu said she has found a support system with the other people who also started the program in September. “We have a group chat, we try our best to stay connected, because we’re all going through the same thing,” she said. “I also keep in contact with past SVAs so I can reach out for advice and to get their ideas.”

The increased need for tradespeople during the pandemic has shone a spotlight on the importance of CTE.

“We are always looking for new candidates from all career sectors to continue building the teacher pool in CTE,” said Gordon. “We need to expand the SVA program to ensure we build a bench and utilize it to ensure diversity.”

Related Topics: CTE