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New legislator likes what he sees at CHS manufacturing academy
Heath Flora
Newly seated state Assemblyman Heath Flora (left) receives a tour of the the Ceres High School Manufacturing Production and Green Technology Academy from teacher Chris Van Meter. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Although most of Ceres is not in his district, newly seated state Assemblyman Heath Flora toured the Ceres High School Manufacturing Academy Thursday morning to explore the idea of spreading the concept to other schools.

Assistant Principal Ed Pelfrey told Flora that the mentoring program of the Ceres High School Manufacturing Production and Green Technology Academy (MPGT) pairs up students with real-life business leaders.

"It's a way to get kids interested in careers and preparing them for careers and college," said Pelfrey.

Flora said he comes out of career technology.

"This is great," said Flora. "Four months ago, right after we got elected, we were sitting down with the (Republican) Caucus and really trying to develop what we want to do. Getting kids into this type of industry is part of our success plan with the Republican Party. Four-year degrees are incredible. We need people to go to college. We absolutely need that but it's not for everybody either."

He told CHS and CUSD staff that he recently toured JFK High School in Sacramento where students are being taught skills that will earn them $25 to $35 per hour.

"It's really, really exciting to see that in this area. I'm happy to be here. I'm excited about it because it's going to be something the Republican Party is really going to be focused on for the foreseeable future. We're running a lot of bills now on career tech."

To make the program marketable, Principal Linda Stubbs told Flora that students coming out of the Academy have the option of going right into the workforce, attend a four-year college or attend a junior college for certificates.

"The teachers have worked really hard in how to make that work and still get all of the hands-on experience they need," said Stubbs.

In the shops, Flora was shown how students program images to be printed by 53 3-D printers at the school. He also got the low-down on the school's push to involve juniors in the installation of solar energy panels out in the real world. He also saw two new FANUC robot machine - costing $60,000 apiece - used in such industries as sorting colors of jelly beans at the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield. Learning how to use the robotic arm is beneficial since Select Harvest uses it to grade almonds, and Amazon and Frito-Lay to wrap pallets.

"Our kids come in and they learn to program these robots," said Pelfrey. "They start with little, simple robots and in the end they're programming these. When they go into the industry, this is the state-of-the-art in the industry so our kids are certified on this equipment. It really makes them marketable."

The Academy is basically a "school within a school" where technical trade skills are taught. Core classes, such as history, English, math and science, are taught alongside the teaching of skills that may be used in the manufacturing world.

Students who leave the program are certified to operate a forklift, they are certified to operate the FANUC robot, they have gone through electronics and pneumatics training.

Pelfrey explained that teacher Chris Van Meter has helped craft the program after going to industry officials and asking them what they need for students to know to make them skilled enough to be hired out of high school.

He explained that Gallo has started a Gateway to Industry program which augments the mentoring program.

"It's giving the soft skills that kids really need," said Pelfrey. "One of the big focusses is to communicate with people from different generations. We talk about ‘Here's how people born in the 50's want to communicate. You need to understand that. Here's how they're going to respond to you when you've got a phone in your hand and you're texting. That you, as millennials, communicate differently than people born in the '50s and understand that and be cognizant of that.' So that's been a huge piece. So when our kids go into interviews they're different from other kids."

Pelfrey said he's excited about the program because it's setting up students for high-paying jobs with area industries.

"Hughson Nut called and said we got a kid from you, he's been great. Have you got any more because we need another electrician? Yeah, We've got their resumes down here, call a kid who's been out for two years and say, ‘Hey do you want to go out to Hughson Nut?' He was employed by the next day in a living wage job. We're not talking about doing pottery and wood shop, which are wonderful things but if you can't make $20 an hour doing it, we shouldn't spend our time in school teaching it."

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.