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Collaborative meeting focuses on produce sold at schools, career ed
Lourdes Perez of the Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children, gave a talk about a growing list of Ceres schools as the site of produce sales. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

More Ceres families are eating healthier thanks to a program that places locally grown produce at a growing number of school sites.

On top of that, career education is making great inroads for students to enter the local job force, officials of the Ceres Unified School District reported to a gathering of the Ceres Community Collaborative on Thursday. Attending were community leaders for a luncheon at the Ceres Community Center.

Lourdes Perez reported that the Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children that fresh produce is being offered by local farmers at six school sites in Ceres. The Partnership believes that a number of poorer families in Ceres do not have access to produce, citing easier accessibility to convenience stores which sell pre-packaged food considered to be unhealthy and promoting obesity.

"We know that the Central Valley is the home to the production of the largest agricultural region and although families are producing the food ... they're not able to bring that food home to their tables and their families," said Perez.

The produce is offered after school, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., one day of the week. La Rosa Farms La Rosa Farms operates at Virginia Parks Elementary, 1021 Moffett Road, on Tuesdays; and at Whitmore Charter Elementary, 3435 Don Pedro Road, on Thursdays.

Ruiz Produce sets up at four sites from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the following schedule: Caswell Elementary, 1800 Central Ave., on Mondays; La Rosa Elementary, 2800 Eastgate Blvd., on Tuesdays; Sinclear Elementary, 1211 Hackett Road, on Wednesdays; and Joel Hidahl Elementary, 2351 Redwood Road, on Thursdays.

The goal, said Perez, is to expand to all the elementary school sites "soon."

Ruiz Produce is set up to accept EBT and WIC benefits cards.

The produce program developed out of the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program (CCROPP) which operates in eight counties in the Valley.

Perez said progress is being made to reduce obesity among Stanislaus County youth. In 2007 17 percent of children aged 12-17 were considered overweight or obese. That number dropped 2.1 percent in 2010.

"Most of our convenience stores have junk food on the shelves, the sugary drinks and very small advertising for healthy foods," said Perez. "We suffer food insecurities within our communities."

CUSD grants coordinator Julie Martin gave an overview of the Career Technical Education program in Ceres, noting that there are nine pathways to careers being offered. During the 2012-13 school year, over 1,470 secondary students out of 3,690 participated in CTE courses. This represents 47 percent of all secondary students in district high schools. The most popular pathways were Technology (Media Support & Services) with over 400 students enrolled last year. Other pathways, which are open to all students, include robotics, ag mechanics, animal science and computer aid drafting.

Many pathways are highly desired by students. For example, the Manufacturing Academy received 140 applications for only 70 slots in the freshman class.

A comparatively higher percentage of secondary students are passing the high school exit exam (the CAHSEE). CTE courses tend to attract more males than females, which the district is attempting to address. While 52 percent of high school students are male, 64 percent are attending CTE classes.

"The whole point is, are we recruiting female students to attend career ed programs because sometimes there's a stigma about girls in welding or girls in manufacturing," said Martin. "In fact ... there's quite a few girls in the manufacturing program."

Ceres High teacher Chris Van Meter, who runs the Manufacturing Production and Green Energy Academy, said 160 students out of 1,500 are in the program. CHS is one of 20 schools in the state as a California Partnership Academy funded by the state.

"We are growing," said Van Meter. "We are looking to add about 30 to 40 more students next year."

"Our focus is to put students in a four-year university," said Van Meter, who also added that students have the option to earn up to 12 college credits per year at Modesto Junior College.

All juniors in the Academy are in a one-on-one mentoring program with representatives from Frito-Lay, Seneca Foods, Gallo Winery, G3, Stanislaus Alliance, Stanislaus Foods, Parker Hannifan, Raycor and Kohl's Distribution. Last year the Academy placed about 200 students in local manufacturing jobs with local plants.

The high school decided to scrap its wood shop program in 2008 since there was little demand for wood-working skills in the Stanislaus County jobs market. CHS officials spoke to local firms and asked what skills they were seeking in workers and decided to craft a new academy of classes to prepare graduates for technological knowhow to get jobs.

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.