Doctors and Cars and Bears, Oh My! Pikes Peak’s Career Start Program


Sophomore Crystal Camacho is in the Career Start Program, taking college classes to become a nurse.

Have you ever wanted to be a mechanic?

How about a chef, working in a famous kitchen?

Does the idea of working around real animals excite you?

Pikes Peak Community College (PPCC) offers an intensive educational opportunity for high school students across the Pikes Peak region who are eager to gain some valuable job experience across a variety of industries.

The Career Start program “provides occupational skill development and training for junior and senior high school students from all over the Pikes Peak region,” according to the Air Academy High School website’s informational page.

It was renamed Career Start from its previous name, AVP (Area Vocational Program).

“There a many classes you can take at PPCC or International Salon Spa Academy. You can start earning college credit or working on a program toward licensure,” said Career Start counselor Sean Brotherton.

Career Start provides real-life job experience for students, who can earn high school and even college credit while working in their chosen field. Students work both with other Career Start learners and, in some cases, with college students.

“Career start helps students know what they want to do in the future and takes that step to help them,” said sophomore Crystal Camacho, who’s taking a course in health education. She wants to become a nurse after she graduates from high school. 

Students learn in a variety of places, from laboratories to classrooms–they even work on-site in hospitals, salons, auto shops, restaurants and zoos.

“[With Career Start,] I’m gonna be able to work in a hospital and come out with my CNA (certified nursing assistant) degree, which allows me to work in a hospital while I’m going to college to become a nurse,” Camacho added.

What careers can you study through this program? According to PPCC, 16 different courses are offered:

This includes the salon education offered at the International Salon Spa Academy, which is another option for prospective Career Start members.

These courses typically last two hours and 45 minutes; some are offered before school and others are taught after. Students will receive high school credit for these classes in addition to college credit, but some will miss school.

“I’m going to miss around two to three classes [a day],” said Camacho.

“Their schedule doesn’t follow the same type as Air Academy schedule. Monday through Friday, they’re not here first or second block. They miss lunch here, but they come back middle of the third block for a third block online class with Mrs. Valerio, and then they have a 4th block class here at school,” said Brotherton.

Additionally, Brotherton noted that, “One of the coolest things about the program is the independence and maturity students develop. They’re treated like college students. [But] some students…miss out on lunch and some of that social stuff, so [they] don’t want to do it.”

However, the social losses are well worth it for some students; this year, more than 40 will be in the program.

“Students can graduate with about 30-35 credits towards an associate degree while earning high school credit. They can start earning college credit [for a] $75 application fee [per year in the program], but $75 for 15 credits is a pretty good deal,” Brotherton said.

There’s also another program, called Ascent, where students can participate in Career Start for their junior and senior years, and then the district will help pay for their college education.

With all of the benefits Career Start gives to aspiring students who want to be prepared for their futures, it’s no surprise that “[The program has] grown from 10-12 to around 40 students” in its 12 years of existence, according to Brotherton.

“[Career Start is] one of the least utilized programs at Air Academy,” Brotherton continued, “…[but] the general trend of why this is becoming more popular is because the rising cost of college tuition; even students who project to go to a 4-year college, [who] have a good SAT score and GPA, [are] opting to go to PPCC for lower tuition instead of going straight to a CU.”

College tuition prices for PPCC average around $4,813 a year for a general associates degree, according to Brotherton, which is thousands of dollars less than other nearby institutions.

UCCS’s tuition is $10,462, while CU Boulder’s is $17,837; for many students, getting into the Career Start program will save them thousands of dollars in future debt, especially if they aspire to lower-wage jobs, such as teaching.

The Career Start program is a unique opportunity for students at Air Academy High School and other schools in the Pikes Peak region. It provides real-life experience, education and college credit for high school students at a price that is much more affordable than traditional college classes.

“I think Career Start helps students know what they want to do in the future and takes that step to help them,” said Camacho. “The program is really going to help me learn to become a nurse.”

Career Start is offered for juniors and seniors and starts every year in January with an informational meeting.

For information on dates and how to apply, contact student councilor Sean Brotherton at [email protected]