After six years of collaboration between education officials and trade professionals, Camarillo will finally have a new charter high school aimed at boosting the Tri-Counties’ skilled building labor force.
The Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School, or ACE, as the new school would be called, will be a part of the Oxnard Union High School District and is aimed at preparing its students for careers in construction, engineering, architecture and other building trades. It’s slated to open in mid-2010 at the Camarillo Airport, across the street from Frontier High School.
ACE’s proponents say the 450-student school will give the Tri-Counties an economic boost by flooding the area with skilled workers. “I really think this is going to create a pipeline of skilled building labor to the surrounding area,” said Peggy Velarde, director of the Ventura County Office of Education’s Regional Occupational Program.
Officials also believe ACE will decrease the area drop-out rate by catering to students not necessarily interested in a traditional high school experience.
“A lot of students drop out because they’re bored. It’s not normally because they’re lacking in aptitude,” said Gene Hansmeier, training director for the County Electrical Joint Apprenticeship Program. Hansmeirer has been instrumental in getting ACE off the ground and already works with electricians in training through his apprenticeship program.
He said ACE will not only offer an alternative to traditional textbook learning but also create a new resource for employers. “In the building trades, we see these future students as assets. They’ll have four years of experience already under their belt by the time they finish high school. They are going to be so much more qualified and focused.”
Although ACE will be a fully state-funded charter school, students will have to apply for acceptance because of the school’s limited enrollment, Hansmeier said. It will start with between 100 and 200 students and build slowly up to between 400 and 450.
ACE students will be able to take, among others, elective classes in drafting and design, masonry, carpentry, electrical work, drywalling, roofing and plumbing — while still meeting the same graduation requirements students at other public high schools have to.
By their junior and senior years, ACE students will be actively engaged in more elaborate projects, such as actual home construction. Throughout the four years, the school places a strong focus on the underlying mathematics and science skills required in engineering and architecture.
Velarde and Hansmeier said that by the time students graduate, they should be fully prepared to go into a job or advanced apprenticeship in the building trades or to college to study architecture, engineering, construction management or a related field.
“Companies are already coming to us and saying that this is a great idea,” Hansmeier said.
ACE will strive to help students focus on the skills that most interest them, he said. He, along with officials from the electrical and sheet metal workers union, first approached the Ventura County Office Education about starting a trade school in 2003 after a visit to Kearny High School in Sand Diego. Hansmeier said what he saw at that high school’s trade academy convinced him that the Oxnard school district could do something similar to help its practically-inclined students.
He remembers being particularly inspired watching students there working with AutoCAD to design car rims – at first not a particularly daunting task, until they realized the underlying physics and arithmetic required.
“They were so enthralled by what they were doing,” Hansmeier said. “Once you have a student’s interest in something like that, it’s so much easier to teach them the related math and science behind what they’re doing.”
Hansmeier said Kearny High’s trade school has been hailed as a huge success not just for its almost perfect graduation rate, but also for the quality of graduates it turns out – and ACE’s visionaries in Camarillo hope to do the same. He he hopes ACE will have at least a 90 percent graduation rate. “I’m so positive about what this new school can do,” he said.
Of course, starting a state school takes time, patience and political finagling as officials work to secure funding, find building space and measure the effects of the new school on the area’s existing ones. The school building at the Camarillo Airport became vacant just last year and was donated by the county office of education. Velarde said the next steps are to apply for a state grant and find a principal.
As the school’s unveiling draws nearer, Hansmeier thinks enrollment interest will grow substantially. “Once the community becomes more aware of this, we expect we’ll get a lot of students wanting to apply.”
“It will not be an overnight change, but I think that in five to six years we’ll be able to see the effects of this school. We’ll be able to see the kinds of graduates it’s turning out for us,” he said. “We think it can only be a positive for students and employers alike.”