CTE success stories: Graduate helps youth make healthy decisions

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia School District’s career and technical education (CTE) programs give students an opportunity to choose a career path that best matches their interests and talents, while gaining hands-on training in high school. Many students who have participated in one of the District’s 41 CTE programs have transitioned to post-secondary institutions – college, university, or technical school — and some have also gotten jobs in their chosen fields right out of high school.

The Notebook asked several graduates from a District CTE program how their participation shaped their interests and lives. We interviewed students from a variety of programs, from culinary arts to computer systems networking to autobody collision repair.

Several profiles will appear in our upcoming Fall Guide to High Schools, due out Sept. 4, and over the next few weeks, we will preview some of these students’ stories online. Our fourth profile is of Sandy Matczak, a 2009 graduate of Mastbaum’s Health-Related Technologies program.

For Sandy Matczak, a typical day at work is never a typical day. At the Youth Health Empowerment Project, she might be found at the front desk or assessing the medical and physical needs of guests, running a workshop, or helping youth get involved in safe activism.

Six years after graduating from Mastbaum High School, Matczak said she still refers to the lessons she learned in the school’s Health-Related Technologies program. From using her familiarity with medical terms to read her mother’s hospital charts to working as a health assistant to pay her way through college, Matczak attributes much of her success to her career and technical education.

“I think the CTE program and the teacher that I had made the learning really amazing,” said Matczak, now 24.

“I am still in contact with her and I try to chaperone her field trips.”

Olga Torres, Matczak’s CTE teacher, is still teaching the program. In fact, she maintains contact with the graduates of the program to offer advice, help them navigate college and to check in. Matczak says that it was Torres who made her experience unique, because she was always willing to go the extra mile, whether that meant fundraising or providing encouragement.

Torres’ influence on the lives of her students also included pushing them to get their certified nurse’s assistant (CNA) license during their junior year of high school.

After graduating in 2009, Matczak knew she wanted to attend college. With Torres’ help, she decided on Temple University. Her father had started his education at Temple, but was unable to finish. Matczak vowed to finish for him.

Matczak received her bachelor’s degree in public health in 2014. Immediately after college, she began working as an office manager for Youth Health Empowerment Project, a nonprofit that empowers youth to make healthy decisions. Matczak said that she plans to continue working while continuing her education.

She is nervous, yet excited, she said, about continuing her education, which includes taking night classes at West Chester University for a master’s degree in social work. Her next goal is to pursue her nursing degree.

“My senior year in high school, opening my eyes with the support of my CTE teacher, I realized I wanted to do so much more, but was not sure what.”

Reflecting on her path, she said that the amount of hands-on learning she received in her career and technical education really influenced her career choices.

“It felt like I wasn’t in school all the time. It felt like I was doing career stuff … like this is what the field will actually be like.”

Samantha Weiss was an intern at the Notebook this summer.