Some Helix Charter High School students are working to build their careers before they graduate.
More than a dozen Helix students are members of ACE, which is a free after-school program run by volunteer professionals in the design and construction industry. The national program generally involves some 9,000 students from approximately 1,000 high schools with majors in architecture, engineering, construction, and skilled trades. There are 74 affiliates (chapters) operating in 36 states. Nearly 70% of ACE students study industry-related fields in college or enter a skilled trades training program.
ACE San Diego was founded in 2003 by a group of area architects, engineers, and general contractors. For 2020-21 school year before COVID began to fully emerge, the group included 11 local schools and about 120 students (low COVID year). In 2020, there were more than $100,000 in scholarships awarded to 50 students.
The Helix ACE Club consists of 15-20 students in grades 9-12. They meet one or two days a week after school. Emily Burrough is the leader of the ACE team and Helix’s teacher.
“Students design, plan and build a project throughout the year with the guidance of our mentors – volunteer architects, engineers, contractors and construction industry professionals – and our lead mentor, Racieli Andrada of Turner Construction,” said Burrough. “In addition to meeting weekly, this year we took field trips to the IQHQ Research and Development District (RADD) being built on North Harbor Drive Downtown and had a behind-the-scenes tour of Snapdragon Stadium (Mission Valley) with hands-on experience with multiple construction trades at ACE San Diego Trades Day.”
According to Burrough, the highlight of the year is the ACE student showcase in the spring at San Diego State University. The event engages ACE clubs from across the county presenting their projects and discussing learning. At the end of the event, ACE awards scholarships to exceptional juniors and seniors planning to pursue one of ACE’s majors in college.
This year’s Helix High scholarship winners are Jesús Romero ($1,500), Isabella Reveles ($2,000), Elisa Reveles ($2,500), Lesly Vázquez ($2,500), and John Funk ($4,000).
“Each year, ACE gives students a common theme around which to build their project,” continued Burrough. “This year, the theme was virtual. The Helix students chose the Chase Bank lot on Spring Street (in La Mesa) as their construction site and decided to create the Vulcan Trades Academy (VTA).”
Burrough noted that VTA is a place where people can come together to learn and practice myriad trades. That would include medical (including physical therapy) and construction options such as welding and circuitry. All of this is done using virtual reality.
The construction project presents challenges for both students and teachers.
Project leader and Helix High senior John Funk noted that one challenge to overcome is: “Learning to think. Many students want to get a syllabus and have their hands in hell without much independent learning and may not be good at planning. That’s the hard part: figuring out how to learn to receive an open assignment, and through ACE, we do a lot of open research. Our mentors, especially Johnny Rivera (civil engineering mentor from Fusion Engineering and Technology) don’t give us answers to our questions. Instead, he directs us to find the right answers ourselves.”
Helix High junior and engineering leader Marzia Dost commented, “One of the biggest challenges for students involved in a project like this, especially leaders, is taking on a responsibility that most of us have never experienced before. With the volume and complexity of some of the work we do, we have to learn to manage our time efficiently and delegate work to our team members, something most people don’t experience until they enter the workforce. ”.
As Burrough sees it, many students were already interested in architecture, engineering, or the construction industry, including trades, when they began spending time in the club.
“For most of them, interactions with our professional industry mentors and hands-on learning have cemented (no pun intended) their interest in pursuing these fields,” Burrough said. “Of our seniors who graduated this year, all of them will go to California universities or community colleges to study engineering. All of our young people are currently interested in engineering or architecture.”
When it comes to students, making the most of these opportunities is key.
“Many students don’t realize that mentors aren’t there to teach you everything, but to help us think or make decisions like an engineer or an architect,” Funk said. “What I mean is think about these things that most of us take for granted, like drainage. For example, with drainage, we might think of it as just something that traps water in one place, but it can’t be placed anywhere. You should contact the city and place it as close to a storm drain as possible. Most people wouldn’t think of that.”
According to Dost, if you’re thinking of joining ACE, just do it.
“There’s something for everyone, and even if you’re not interested in these fields, you’ll learn valuable skills in teamwork and discipline,” Dost said. “However, as much fun as we may have, ACE requires responsibility for all members. We all have to work diligently and keep our word to make sure we meet deadlines and always work towards our full potential. Make sure you can efficiently manage your time and other responsibilities.”
ACE Club is open to any Helix Charter High School student interested in learning more about architecture, construction, or engineering.
Danicka Markey’s photo
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