The Colton Unified School District Superintendent, Jerry Almendarez, spoke recently with Sean Reynolds of Energy Independence Magazine about district plans to initiate a two-day boot camp program sponsored, in part, by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW.) Almendarez says the emphasis will be on improving student performance by focusing on data-driven decisions while engaging the support of business and industry, faith-based organizations and local government to increase their resources and the impact on students.

RIVERSIDE, CA- As superintendent for the Colton Joint Unified School District, part of Jerry Almendarez’s job is to ensure that his students are getting the best educational opportunities possible. To those ends, Southern California’s Colton school district will be offering a two-day boot camp experience to its middle school students this fall, in part, paid for by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW.) The event will take place at the facilities of the National Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee (NJATC) in San Bernardino. “The first thing we considered when we approached the IBEW was to find a way to improve our math scores at the ninth-grade level,” Almendarez said. He went on to say that the district has a problem with students failing algebra. The boot camp is an attempt to demonstrate to middle school students the practical application of a sometimes-abstract subject.

When researching various industries relevant to the region’s economic recovery, district administrators discovered that the IBEW, through their five-year apprenticeship program with the NJATC, had a two-year math requirement, including high school algebra. Contacting the IBEW was the next step. The electrical workers boot camp originated in order to show middle school students the practical value of mathematics. “It really is a great idea,” said Rick Purper, director of the San Bernardino chapter of the NJATC. “It’s a win-win for the community. We’re providing our facility and staff. Students will experience first-hand what possessing a skilled trade is really like, so when they reach high school they’ll do a better job of completing their math requirement.”

Recently, the superintendent met with the district principals, assistant principals and directors to tour Local 477’s NJATC facility where they were led through a series of apprentice workshops. “We’re using this opportunity for our administrators to be cheerleaders and communicate the possibilities to the students and teachers. We got a lot of excitement out of that day, and I think the IBEW was equally as excited.”

Almendarez is also reaching out to established skilled trade foundations like the San Bernardino Alliance for Education and the Riverside County Office of Education’s Regional Occupation Program (ROP) for support and funding. He says with Colton’s cradle to career approach that he envisions a future curriculum with some kind of contractor or engineering program. “Ultimately, when they graduate, they’ll have college credits, or even a year or two of the apprenticeship school under their belt,” he said.

Almendarez describes the region’s economic situation as a “struggle for all of us.” The Riverside County board of supervisors and the county office of education have adopted a philosophy of collective impact designed to pull all agencies of the community together for the welfare of the student. “The thought is,” Almendarez says, “if we have a job force that’s equipped, ready and knowledgeable to facilitate this recovery, industry will come in.” Again, he spoke of the cradle to career continuum that hopes to bring together business and industry, faith-based organizations and local government to aid in academic performance.

“That’s what this is:” he says, “a collaborative effort beginning with the IBEW… We have relationships with other industries out there pulling together, and the charge is going to be, right now, on improving our ninth-grade math scores.”

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