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State's top ed chief visits CHS academy
Torlakson, Gray tour CHS academy, granted $600,000
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson (center) hears Ceres High School Manufacturing Academy students Julian Lopez and Monica Razo talk about the program. State Assemblyman Adam Gray and instructor Chris Van Meter also participated in the tour. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Word of the glowing successes of the Ceres High School Manufacturing Academy not only garnered it another $600,000 state grant but prompted State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson to come visiting on Friday.

After he spoke to students and saw how they were being trained for future manufacturing and technology jobs, the state's top education official was pumped up to share his find with others.

"This is fabulous, fantastic," said Torlakson. "This is a role model for the rest of the state of California. It's the cutting edge of what we want to see our education system transfer more into hands-on learning, 21st century skills. We heard over and over teamwork. Good communication skills in writing and verbally. The students were so articulate."

The state awarded the grant to fund the program for three years. CHS was one of 39 schools which received a grant.

"There are few schools who got the grant and we're one of them," said Ceres High School Principal Linda Stubbs.

Also on the tour were Frito-Lay officials who have been mentoring CHS students in the program.

Academy Chris Van Meter explained that the Academy has been expanded to include freshmen through seniors.

Freshmen teach environmental science introduction to manufacturing with an introduction to recycling and green technology. Sophomores are taught mechanics and robotics. Juniors are exposed to electricity and electronics class. Seniors are educated in solar designs, wind turbines and bio fuels.

Torlakson, 65, chuckled when he was shown last year's humorous video created by students about recycling. He also noted that as a former science teacher that he remembered that the recycling of one aluminum can equates to five hours of running a 100-watt bulb.

Elexis Alsobrook told Torlakson that last year students looked at nutrition, thanks to an expert, and actually influenced changed on the school menu for better nutrition.

Mandy Alcorn said the academy is helping her become better educated and work better with others to become a veterinarian.

"I love this class," Alcorn told Torlakson. "It's my favorite class of the day. I love coming here. I love being with people and different groups and meeting new people and that's what this class helps me to do."
Van Meter added that "everything's about team building here."

The girls explained that the class includes field trips - like an upcoming visit to U.C. Berkeley - to get students familiar with campuses. Van Meter added that students get to see actual manufacturing plants, such as the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, Hilmar Cheese and the Modesto wastewater treatment plant.

Torlakson shared his acronym for TEAM, saying it stands for "Together Everyone Accomplishes More."

State Assemblyman Adam Gray, who was also on the tour, said the Academy "makes our community better."

Gray saw an article on the wall about the iPhone of cars and explained how he recently visited Fremont manufacturers in an attempt to get them to bring their battery factory to the Valley.

"What you guys are doing helps us do that," Gray told the students.

Marco Nunez chatted with Torlakson and noted that his older brother was placed in a job with Frito-Lay in Modesto thanks to the academy.

Juniors must be mentored by industry officials in the program. Seneca Foods alone provides five and seven mentors on a monthly basis and likes to hire seniors straight out from graduation.

Torlakson was treated to demonstrations of various manufacturing processes. Timothy Campbell and Trenton Blanton showed the can crusher that was made. Daniel Guzman showed how students can create three dimensional designs on the computer and then create them in plastic form within an hour or so.

The academy, explained Van Meter, calls for the junior class to design and build a solar boat which is raced in the Solar Regatta competition sponsored by Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) at Rancho Seco.
Torlakson kept hearing the word "fun" by students to describe the academy classes.

"Students who are engaged are not dropping out, they're not getting into trouble, they're not going to go into the juvenile delinquency system," said Torlakson. "They're focused on their future and they're getting a pipeline straight to a job."

Julie Martin, the district's grant writer who snagged the grant for the academy through the competitive California Career Pathways Trust, said CUSD will also be enjoying $300,000 of a $6 million grant awarded to Modesto Junior College. The California Department of Education (CDE) administers the program, soliciting and identifying the strongest applications based on a rigorous evaluation process carried out by the CDE and its state partners, the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office and the California Workforce Investment Board.

State officials received 123 eligible applications containing about $709 million in requested grants, nearly triple the $250 million in available funding. Applicants included community college districts, county offices of education, direct-funded charter schools, and school districts.