CERES -- Al Azevedo is a vocational education teacher from the old school, where hand tools rule wood shop and students in the automotive class can expect to leave with greasy hands.
Next year, the wood shop class Azevedo has taught at Ceres High for 29 years will be gone. Instead, Azevedo will teach classes in a new, more tech-centered manufacturing program to kick off in the fall.
"If you want to go get a maintenance job, it's not just a wrench and a screwdriver anymore," Azevedo said Thursday. "The good thing for me is that it's going to be putting me on my toes. I'm originating classes that are going to have a history here."
Ceres High School was one of three area schools, including Enochs High in Modesto and Orestimba High in Newman, chosen to receive state bond money to upgrade facilities for vocational education programs, now called career-technical education. Nearly 175 projects statewide will split $198 million in funding.
Career-technical education has come back in vogue recently, after shaking off a bad reputation as a place to put students who weren't college material.
State education officials have put a new focus on making sure the hands-on job training classes can prepare students for higher education.
"California must prepare all students for success in the competitive global economy, whether they plan to go straight into a career or to college after graduating from high school," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said. "By improving and expanding career technical education options for students, we will help keep them motivated, in school, and better prepared for their future."
The money comes from Proposition 1D, a $10.4 billion school bond measure passed by voters in November 2006 to fund repair projects and upgrade public schools. About $1 billion in Proposition 1D funds is reserved for funding career-technical education facilities.
The state Department of Education graded each project application and determined the amount of funding based on the program's relevance to industry needs and the program's ability to connect students to higher education.
Ceres High School's proposal got about $2 million in state funding to add computer labs to the wood and auto shops that haven't seen a full makeover since they were built in 1942. Those classrooms will be converted to adapt to the manufacturing and product development program, which includes classes in small engines, applied computer literacy and fundamentals of electricity. Students will use devices called trainers to practice electrical and robotics skills and can earn credit at Modesto Junior College for passing their higher-level classes.
Jay Simmonds, director of educational options for Ceres schools, said the decision to develop the program came after data showed manufacturing would be among the strongest local industries during the next decade. Simmonds met with officials at MJC and local busi- nesses to decide what needed to be included in the curriculum.
"From square one, we talked about the technical skills that needed to be learned," he said. "(Students) need good academic skills -- reading, writing and math. It's important for them to know electrical concepts. They need soft skills -- being able to work together as a team and communicate to one another. We're designing courses to encompass those different areas."
Enochs High School will get nearly $667,000 and Orestimba High got $250,000 in bond funds to develop agriculture and natural resources programs.
Newman school district offi- cials said their state funding would go to create a school farm, which would include a barn, livestock pens, a practice show arena and about two acres of land to plant row crops, fruit and nut trees.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2337.