Ceres High program gives students hands-on manufacturing experience

08/15/2014 7:52 PM

08/16/2014 3:07 PM

Manufacturing students at Ceres High School make robots, promote recycling and design solar-powered boats. But in a larger sense, they’re building tomorrow.

“The whole idea is fabulous. I want to see it in action,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said before touring the massive, work-table-lined classrooms Friday. The California Department of Education awarded the program $600,000 as part of a $2.5 million Career Pathways grants program.

The money will help expand the CHS Manufacturing Production & Green Technology Academy, which this year interviewed 150 incoming freshmen who applied for 70 openings, Ceres High Principal Linda Stubbs said.

“We never had to turn kids away before,” she said.

Sophomore Ashley Ceja said she likes the academy’s close-knit feel. “We’re a big family. We don’t get into drama or anything,” said Ceja, who plans to become a pediatrician.

The roughly 200 students in the academy take manufacturing classes, math, English, history and science courses together in a four-hour block. In a key feature of pathways programs, the courses dovetail.

For example, a history project asks teens to research an inventor. The invention is analyzed in chemistry class. A report and presentation becomes an English assignment, explained teacher Tracy Clark.

“It’s a mix of everything. It’s difficult at times,” said sophomore Cordell Dennis, standing beside his latest competition robot. He said he wants to be an engineer who designs cars, and sees the academy as a strong career move, something that will look good on his résumé.

He will get more help for that résumé. Each student will be matched with an industry mentor for a year, discussing topics such as work ethics and work expectations over lunch, said lead teacher Chris Van Meter.

During the academy block of time, Van Meter also teaches Modesto Junior College classes that count for dual credit, high school and college. Internships, job interviews, industry tours, college field trips and service projects all wrap into the program.

“Our end goal is to get these kids employed as soon as they leave,” Van Meter said.

Except one who is still 17, all students in the first group to graduate got jobs this summer, he said.

Employers see this as a way to grow the area’s base of strong job candidates, said Darcy Arata, Frito-Lay’s liaison with the program. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a high school with as strong a connection to industry,” Arata said Friday.

The well-rounded program trains teens to think for themselves, Van Meter said, watching as two juniors worked out a snag for a robotic can crusher they built. “They’re not on a phone trying to call a technician. They fix it themselves,” he said.

“It’s problem-solving, teamwork. We all need those skills,” said Ceres trustee Betty Davis.

Davis said the board first discussed creating the academy nearly a decade ago, using $2 million in bond and state money to remodel the building and an initial $600,000 state grant to buy the equipment and materials.

“It’s so nice to see this,” said Stephen Work-Montana, who evaluated grant applications totaling more than $1 billion that competed for the $250 million available this year. “In Sacramento, you’re reading pages and you have images. But here you see the students,” he said.

Work-Montana and state Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, took part in the tour.

“This is a model program,” Torlakson told the students before leaving, adding that he’d like to see more such academies around the state. Modesto City Schools also has California Partnership Academies at Davis, Enochs, Johansen and Modesto high schools.

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