LIVINGSTON — A rooftop in Merced County might be the last place you'd think high school students would find an education. But that's where 10 students of the Ceres High School Manufacturing Academy were two days last week, receiving instruction on installing solar panels on the roof of a low-income Livingston homeowners.
Ceres High School officials teamed up with Grid Alternatives, a non-profit organization that introduces the benefits of solar technology to low-income communities. The organization has installed solar systems on 126 roofs since 2009. Students help install solar panels which they have learned about in the classroom.
"All the kids get to do a two-day installation from start to finish," said Ceres High School Associate Principal Lonnie Cornell. "They get to work with a couple of experts. The kids love it. The first group was excited from the get-go. The second group was a little hesitant because it was cold but they really enjoyed it once they started working there."
In December the first 10 Academy students worked on a two-day installation on a low-income home in Livingston. Last week was the chance for the second group of 10 seniors to work at a home on Black Pine Way. They wired the home on Wednesday for homeowner Raul Guzman and mounted 16 solar panels on Thursday.
"It's good learning at a young age as more green energy is coming," said senior Lovepreet Singh. "Green energy is what we're looking for. Our fossil fuels are being used up."
Teacher Trish Byers was overseeing things in the garage where a Grid-Tied Inverter was being wired.
"The kids are learning life skills and hands-on skills to construct solar panels if they decide to do this in the future," said Byers. "It's much more fun being here than in the classroom - but they are definitely are putting to use what they learned in the classroom."
Because the seniors' work benefits low-income families, they are deemed as volunteers.
"They are not getting paid but they are learning valuable skills," said Cornell.
The high school has a goal to have students work on solar installations in Ceres. But for now Grid Alternatives only works with PG&E customers and PG&E does not provide electricity to Ceres. Cornell said he plans to talk to Turlock Irrigation District about the prospects of having students work locally.
The Academy allows CHS students to get out of the traditional classroom setting each day and spend 50 minutes of hands-on learning about manufacturing.
Teacher Chris Van Meter looks at the Academy as a "school within a school" where technical trade skills are taught. Core classes, such as history, English, math and science, are taught.
"It is fairly math intensive," said Van Meter of the Academy.
The Academy has a green energy and manufacturing focus, made possible by a $600,000 state grant ($150,000 per year) from the California Partnership Academy. Ceres High School is one of only 20 California schools which were awarded the grant.
The state grant calls for half of Academy students to be "at-risk," including those struggling with grades, poor attendance or from a lower socioeconomic background.
The Academy evolved four years ago when CUSD educators went to local manufacturers — like Gallo Winery — and asked how schools can better prepare workers for Stanislaus County employer needs. Many who do the hiring for plants complained that students who directly enter the workforce are not skilled nor have a good work ethic. CUSD crafted a program designed to teach mechanical skills, application of academics to the work world and computer aided drafting. Van Meter said students are learning the development and design process used in manufacturing.
The Academy's green focus has freshmen, sophomores and juniors working on specific projects. Seniors learn how to use wind turbines, work with solar panels and hydrogen fuel cells — all on a half-million dollars worth of equipment paid for by grants.
CUSD set the stage for the Academy by winning several state grants and obtaining 50/50 funding for the rehabilitation of the mechanical classrooms. The state provided $6.86 million to buy equipment and modernize the CHS shop buildings, including converting the old auto shop into the manufacturing and ag mechanics shop for $2.4 million in 2010; renovating the metal shop for $2.4 million in 2008; and converting the old wood shop to the manufacturing classroom for $2.06 million in 2007.