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$10 million later, this Detroit career technical center is ‘back into the light’

A student wearing a hair net and two wearing chefs hats serve people in line at a buffet table.
Students in the culinary arts program at Breithaupt Career Technical Center serve food during an event to mark a $10 million investment in the school.
Lori Higgins/Chalkbeat

When Faith Fizer first enrolled at the Breithaupt Career Technical Education Center several years ago, it was dark, the floors were loud, the equipment was outdated and textbooks were in bad shape.

Today — after a $10 million partnership between the Detroit school district, city and business leaders — the school that Fizer said has taught her “more than I can ever imagine” has undergone a dramatic transformation.

“We are back into the light,” said Fizer, 18, who will graduate in June after spending three years in the cosmetology program.

This partnership that helped revitalize Fizer’s school is crucial to city efforts to train enough people for the many high demand jobs that require specialized skills. It also fits in with state efforts to provide students with access to skilled trades programs — and thus graduate students who have skills that are needed in business and industry. Skilled trades, according to the state, include healthcare, information technology, advanced manufacturing, construction, and automotive.

It’s something Gov. Gretchen Whitmer emphasized in her State of the State address earlier this year, when she said “the skills gap poses a serious economic challenge for us. And part of the problem is we have failed to prioritize talent and ensure everyone has a path to skills.”

The investment at Breithaupt comes on the heels of a similar $10 million investment in 2017 at Randolph Career Technical Center. There, the work to transform the school increased enrollment from 80 to more than 600, with the current number including both youth and adults.

“This is the way our community should be supporting children,” Mayor Mike Duggan said during an event Thursday morning to celebrate the work at Breithaupt.

“We are now creating a pathway for our own students to be able to start to think about what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives,” Duggan said.

Quicken Loans and Bedrock were the lead funders for the project, with other major contributors including General Motors, DTE Foundation, Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation (a Chalkbeat funder), Ballmer Group, Lear Corp., Penske Corporation, and Ford Motor Co.

The $10 million investment covered improvements in a number of areas. Various parts of the building were renovated, updated equipment was added — including vehicles donated by GM and Ford. The curriculum was updated to align with industry standards and adult training for high-demand jobs was added in the evenings and on weekends.

At Breithaupt, students can get training in culinary arts, retail and hospitality sectors; automotive service and collision repair; and mechatronics and welding.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the work at Breithaupt and Randolph “is only the beginning,” and he predicted that one day, “we’ll be talking about this type of investment in over 100 schools” in the district.

Fizer, who spoke before a crowd assembled for the Thursday event, received applause when she said she plans to come back to Breithaupt and teach. More immediately, she said she’ll be attending Schoolcraft College after she graduates high school.

“We need teachers here that can inspire and have the energy students need,” she said.

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