Michael Sanchez wasn’t on track to graduate last spring. A year into rehabilitating his academic career at Temecula Valley Unified’s continuation school, he is certain of that.
“I just didn’t find an importance in it,” Sanchez said. “My schedule was to go to school and come home and play video games. It really didn’t matter to me.”
That’s no longer the case for Sanchez, one of more than two dozen Rancho Vista High School students enrolled in a budding solar technology program that uses real-world training to catapult kids toward the first internships offered in more than 20 years of the school’s history.
Like the bulk of the 200-some students at Rancho Vista — one of three schools at the Sparkman Alternative Education Center — Sanchez was behind on credits when he transferred from Chaparral last March.
Now, the 18-year-old senior is again speeding toward graduation and a potential career producing clean solar energy after excelling in a pilot class geared to students in need of unconventional approaches to education.
“That’s the hook,” Principal Greg Cooke said. “Our kids are very hands-on. They are not traditional students in the sense that they go to school and they excel in the classroom. These kids have unbelievable talents. They are really talented, but in different ways.”
Enter Blaine Boyer’s new solar technology class.
Broken up into two semesters, the first half of the program guides students through an introduction to alternative energy solutions. In addition to lessons on safety, wiring and energy calculations, students’ lessons culminate in connecting “green” energy modules in the classroom, including a fuel cell module that produces energy using a solution of water, baking soda and an electrolyzer.
All of this piqued senior Jordan Harvey’s interest when he volunteered to transfer from Chaparral to participate in the program and learn skills that will help him land a job the moment he graduates later this year.
“The connections — it’s so easy to short-circuit or get electrocuted,” Harvey said of the skills he needed to master to land one of six internships at Murrieta-based Ambassador Energy. “With all the safety precautions, it takes time to learn what you are doing. Once you get the hang of it, it’s easy.”
The advanced students in the first-semester class eventually move on to practical solar installations on a lowered roof that Boyer had an engineer draw up for the eastern edge of the campus.
The roof’s construction, of course, was left to his students, who were expected to handle everything from pouring concrete to cutting boards to nailing it all together.
Once complete, they’ll practice connecting panels and conduit in a number of arrangements that will simulate solar energy production. Later, some of his students will even join Grid Alternatives on Habitat For Humanity-like jobs to bring clean energy to families in need.
“The whole idea is school-to-work,” said Boyer, noting that the class will prepare students for jobs as solar installers, administrators and salespeople. “They don’t have to go to college. They don’t have to go to a trade school. They don’t have to join the service. They can actually go to a good-paying career straight from school, and that’s very appealing to our types of students.”
Sanchez already is seeing the payoff, turning his internship with Ambassador Energy into a job on the company’s payroll. The solar energy program may even have lighted the way toward a career path for a kid who said he flunked every English course he’d taken at Chaparral.
Now Sanchez has a job and ambition, to boot.
“That meant a lot, to think that about a year ago I was failing in school,” Sanchez said. “And now I have something that I can say that I have accomplished.”