When Wells Middle School student Yuly Quintero heard about Norte Vista High School’s newly minted Green Construction Academy, she knew it was where she wanted to be.
“It just seemed so cool to do things other girls don’t do,” she said.
Quintero, now 15 and a sophomore at the Riverside high school, said the academy has exceeded her expectations. She has designed and built miniature replicas of buildings and bridges, and learned how to use hand and power tools.
And on a recent Tuesday, Quintero and about 39 of her academy classmates were put through the paces by trained professionals during a daylong boot camp at the Electrical Apprenticeship Training Center in San Bernardino. They learned to use a defibrillator in a CPR class, fashioned metal conduits, ran wires and learned some of the “hair-raising” aspects of electrical safety.
Now wrapping up its third year at Norte Vista, the academy is a school within a school that blends academic and career technical education to engage students who lack motivation or are at risk of dropping out to help them prepare for careers in the building trades or college – or both. Programs like this are great examples of Seizing Our Destiny’s catalyst for innovation and intelligent growth pillars. The people and educational institutions of Riverside cultivate and support programs that help improve our already outstanding quality of life.
“We’re reaching a student population that maybe we overlook,” said Gary Packler, the academy’s coordinator. “The academy is a way to connect them to school.”
The program is funded by a California Department of Education grant with support from the Alvord Unified School District and business partners. It focuses on jobs in clean technology and renewable energy in industries such as solar energy and wind energy.
Other Inland schools with grants for Green Construction academies are: Arroyo Valley High School in San Bernardino and Desert Hot Springs High School in the Palm Springs Unified School District.
Norte Vista’s Green Academy started in 2012 with a freshman class of 30 students recruited from the district’s four middle schools.
Students in that initial class – who will be seniors in fall – and from subsequent years take four classes per day together and advance through the academy as a group.
“It creates a smaller learning environment,” Packler said. “It promotes a connection between teacher and students.”
Students take academic courses including English, mathematics and science. Mixed in are a freshman class of wood shop, and sophomore and junior construction technology courses.
Students also observe and work at a solar panel installation work site, Packler said.
On May 5, 40 academy students gathered at the San Bernardino apprenticeship center, where they got a taste of what to expect if they opted to try for a spot in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ apprenticeship program instead of going to college.
“It’s a very demanding program,” said Jim Rush, the Brotherhood’s business representative, who helped organize the boot camp.
Rush said applicants need a high school diploma or GED, must pass an exam that tests their math, reading and writing comprehension skills and be interviewed by the apprenticeship committee.
In the five-year training program, apprentices work five days a week with a contractor and attend school two nights a week.
The payoff can be substantial, Rush said. He earns about $100,000 per year.
Sophomore Johnny Conriquez, 16 said he heard about the Green Academy at Loma Vista Middle School and thought it would suit him for a couple of reasons.
“I like working with my hands,” he said. “And I like that we’re helping the environment.”
The academy has been so successful that participants have asked to help recruit at middle schools, Packler said.
“Some of these students would never have volunteered to go to middle school,” Packler said. “But they have developed so much confidence and social skills.”
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