By Heather Ah San
RIO VISTA — Rio Vista High School students Jordan Fonbuena, Cody Big, Rafael Vega and Kim Guggemos get to go to school every morning and use their hands for something.
Hint: It’s not for writing.
The high school’s renewable energy class emphasizes hands-on projects — not textbooks — to teach students about the green industry. And the hands-on learning approach makes sense. The class isn’t just preparing students for a test, it’s preparing them for life.
Class instructor Jim Bard is teaching his students the skills necessary for a job in renewable energy. His class covers a large scope of green professions, including wind energy, electricity, solar thermal energy, solar power and hydrogen fuel cells.
The program started at Rio Vista High during the 2011-12 school year with the help of funding from EDF Renewable Energy, which operates windmills in the area. The company provides the class with guest speakers, curriculum development and sometimes takes the students on field trips.
Bard helps develop the students’ mechanical skills by having them build projects either by hand or on a computer. Just recently, he had students figure out how to build a solar hot water heater using a black hose.
“These are good ways to get everyone involved,” he said.
The curriculum initially emphasized wind energy and working on wind turbines. Wind energy was a natural fit as the training could directly lead to a job with EDF Renewable Energy.
But the class has grown to encompass other alternative energies such as solar energy or hydrogen fuel cells. Bard is testing what the students have learned during the year by having them “build” a green building using AutoCad.
Some of the students said the class has interested them in career opportunities in the renewable energy industry.
Fonbuena said he really wants to pursue wind energy, possibly at EDF, after he graduates.
“It’s a growing industry. … It’s just going to keep growing,” he said.
Guggemos said she’s found it interesting that the skills they learn in class can be used in everyday life, not just for their careers. One example, she said, was when Bard taught them about weatherization and different ways they could make their house energy-efficient.
“Some of us prefer to use what we learn in practical application,” she said. “It can be applied to everyday life.”
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Creek, praised the class on the floor of the House last week.
“Here you see the green technology — wind energy — coupling up with education to provide middle-class jobs. It’s a great example,” he said.
— Reach Heather Ah San at firstname.lastname@example.org