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Trade Tech High graduates its first class

Innovative school offers students promising careers in construction

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If the air around Vista’s North County Trade Tech High School is buzzing, it’s because it will soon graduate its first class of students.

“There are a fair number of kids who couldn’t visualize this four years ago,” said Trade Tech High principal Bryan O’Donnell. “For many of these families it’s the first time an immediate family member is graduating from high school.”

Founded in 2008 by Doreen Quinn with assistance from the San Diego Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), its Apprenticeship Training Trust, and other industry leaders, the charter high school has a student body of 120. Its integrated program meets state high school academic standards while preparing students for college or skilled jobs in the construction industry. Hands-on, project-based learning and internships with North County construction and construction-related companies provide students with practical skills necessary to succeed after they graduate.

Five of the 20 graduating seniors have submitted applications to ABC’s apprentice program, according to O’Donnell. Four applicants want to be electricians and one is interested in HVAC/sheet metal.

North County Trade Tech School students show off their first community construction project in 2008. Four years later, students among this group will make up the first graduating class of seniors in June. Photo courtesy North County Trade Tech High SchoolPhoto courtesy of ABC San Diego

O’Donnell said the tightly knit group will soon go through a series of interviews with ABC personnel, and will then wait to hear if they’ll receive scholarships to pay for books, tools and other materials they’ll need for the three-to-five year programs.

“As an apprentice, they’ll walk onto a job with an ABC member affiliate and will earn $14 to $18 an hour,” O’Donnell said. “Being gainfully employed is part of that process.”

A group of 11 students have applied to Palomar College and Mira Costa College, and O’Donnell said a couple of others are going into the military. One senior has been working part time at American Bobcat, learning from the woman who runs the business and came to the school looking for someone to mentor.

“This student, who has worked since she was in 9th grade, is very sharp and competent,” O’Donnell said. “It could be a career for her if she wants it, and she’s very excited about it.”

In addition to completing regular high school requirements, Trade Tech seniors take Philanthropy 101, a grant program that gets them involved with nonprofits. Under the guidance of a LEED Certified program director, students perform energy audits for nonprofits and then present a list of suggestions to make the buildings more energy efficient. Grant funds pay for materials, and students help volunteer professionals complete the work.

As these seniors prepare to graduate, Trade Tech High continues to evolve and expand its students’ learning experience. The school is certified through ABC and the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) to perform written and practical assessments and give apprentice credits.

O’Donnell said under the direction of Eric Miller, the school’s Green Build program has expanded. The engineering program is now articulated with Palomar College, making it much more detailed. The school’s robotics program produced a team that won the FIRST Robotics regional competition and will travel to St. Louis, Mo. to compete nationally.

O’Donnell is especially proud of the student body’s academic performance. Trade Tech’s score on the Academic Performance Index rose 159 points this year, up from 558 in 2010-11 to 717 (on a scale between 200 and 1,000). It was the biggest increase of any school in the county and the biggest in the state for a charter school.

“That’s pretty phenomenal if you follow that kind of thing, which educators do,” O’Donnell said. “We have aggressive programs that reach out to kids who are in school reluctantly. With our small class sizes and adviser intensive study, we’re able to give a lot of one-to-one instruction and meet the challenge of working with these kids.”

-James is an Encinitas-based freelance writer.

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