Over winter break, thieves broke into a storage container and took every piece of equipment donated for the turf grass management class at Turlock High School.
Principal Marie Peterson estimated the loss at $15,000, including four commercial push lawn mowers, a long-shaft rolling edger, leaf blowers and a gasoline-powered hedge trimmer. Much of the money to outfit the class, new this school year, came from community donations.
“I take these thefts personally because we are the next generation of the workforce and we need classes like turf grass management to help us be competent and skilled employees,” senior Chuy Cervantes said Tuesday.
With baseball season around the corner, the class came back to school Monday expecting to tidy up the campus fields. The shaggy grass trains the vocational class before cleats dig in for sports practice.
“I was really looking forward to helping get the fields ready for softball and baseball – hopefully, we are able to get our equipment replaced so this can still happen,” Cervantes said.
The career skills class covers maintenance of larger lawns, such as parks, cemeteries and golf courses. It includes training in job hunting, such as interviewing and basic consumer know-how, but also stretches to teach ag business economics for students up to the challenge, Peterson said in unveiling the offering last summer.
The flexible design aims to serve a mix of special education and regular education students – kids who don’t mind getting their hands dirty and want a class without another term paper, as ag department Chairman Chad Russell put it.
That concept appealed to donors such as the Turlock Kiwanis club, which pitched in $2,000 to help get turf management rolling, Peterson said.
This week, a protective fence around the ag department storage area was slated to be finished, she said. Small engines worth $5,000 were stolen from the same area in November, which left the small engines class scrambling until ag businesses pitched in to restock the class and keep it running.
Two ag trailers also were vandalized, with wiring removed, and a student project was damaged. The school has had four break-ins since August, Peterson said.
But the theft of landscaping tools used by special education students seems especially callous. In September at Sherwood Elementary in Modesto, thieves made off with specialty bicycles used by severely disabled students. Some were later found, wrecked and discarded, but through donations by community and business donors, all were replaced.
Anyone with information regarding this case is asked to contact Turlock police Detective James Brewer at (209) 668-5550, ext 6631, or Crime Stoppers at (209) 521-4636. Tipsters can email through the Crime Stoppers website, www.stancrimetips.org, or text tips to CRIMES (274637) by typing “Tip704” plus a message. Callers to Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and are eligible for a cash reward.