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September 18, 2021

Career-focused Watsonville school wins national award

WATSONVILLE—Diamond Technology Institute in Watsonville was recently honored for its programming promoting college and career readiness.

The school is the recipient of a Gold Medal for its work with the Career Choices Series curriculum and My10yearPlan.com, created by Academic Innovations, an award-winning educational publisher.

The Career Choices program aims to help students, starting in their ninth-grade year, to create 10-year plans for their future education and career goals. 

Mindy Bingham, founder and president of Academic Innovations who authored the curriculum, said that the program takes students through a comprehensive guidance process, working with counselors and instructors. The aim is to prepare them for more than just getting into college.

“It’s about asking, ‘What is the endgame?’ Not just whether you can get into a top school,” Bingham said. “Research shows that students who have these plans are much more likely to get to where they want to be. And colleges … are choosing students who know what they want to do after graduation.”

Diamond Tech is a Career Technical Education (CTE) school under the purview of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District, blending academic education and career training. All students graduate with pathways into digital media arts, engineering, business design or agricultural science.

Career Choices and My10yearPlan.com are “fundamental” to Diamond Tech’s vision, said instructor Ryan Richards. 

“We’ve asked kids to give honest feedback the last couple of years … and over 90% answer positively when asked if they feel ready for college and careers,” he said. “That’s way above most high schools. Students feel empowered here. They have answers.”

Alumnus Angel Ortiz, who graduated from Diamond Tech in 2019, said the school helped them prepare for many of the courses at UC Merced.

“Most of the classes I have right now are a review of what I had [at Diamond Tech],” Ortiz said. “I will forever thank them for preparing me for college.”

Richards said that 70% of Diamond Tech students last year applied to colleges and universities and that the career planning they’ve adopted has been a big factor.

“Some of my favorite moments as a teacher are seeing these kids get their admission letters,” he said. “I’ve worked with many students who are first-generation going to college. This program has given them the potential to have that experience.”

Diamond Tech is among 22 schools across the nation that have been awarded a Career Choices Medal for the 2020–2021 school year, which brought many unprecedented challenges to the education sector, including the shift to remote learning and the need to attend to students’ social-emotional health.

Bingham said that being awarded a Gold Medal means that a school is using the program with “fidelity.” Diamond Tech has done this and more, she said, during a very challenging time.

“Diamond Tech is doing it right—they’re very serious about this,” she said. “They have done a lot of unique and creative things with the program.”

This includes a series of videos, which students record and create to discuss their time at the school and working with Career Choices. Each student explains their own 10-year plan, which includes everything from budget planning to college selection.

Senior Adriana Jimenez said she appreciates Diamond Tech offering so many different kinds of classes. Not only are students expected to take basic courses, but they can also sign up for electives. 

“You get to explore a lot of options,” Jimenez said. “My time here … I realized I want to go into nursing. Diamond Tech helped me create a timeline for that. They help you prepare for your future.”

Fellow Senior Gordon Xiao had a similar experience.

“I really like that this school gives you diverse pathways you can take,” he said. “They really go into detail about your future, like what your goals are and how your future budget fits into that. After being here, I have a plan … I want to become a pharmacist.”

Richards said that the school receiving the Gold Medal is a “really big honor.”

“Everyone, my colleagues and the students have been working so hard,” he said. “It means a lot to get this recognition.”

Johanna Miller
Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study Literature. She covers arts and culture, business and agriculture.

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