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Camp Singer students build 'Green-Greenhouse'

Appeal-Democrat - 5/30/2022

May 31—A group of teenage students from the Maxine Singer Youth Guidance Center, also known as Camp Singer, recently participated in the Construction Industry Education Foundation (CIEF) Design Build Competition at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento.

The purpose of the Design Build Competition is to promote career awareness of the construction industry among high school students.

This four-month program challenges each team to design and prepare several construction documents according to criteria outlined by CIEF. During the two-day competition, teams build their chosen structure and are judged by industry professionals on the completion of design, construction, code compliance, and safety.

The Camp Singer youth were led by Dan McAllister, Carden Court School's career technical education (CTE) instructor. Carden School provides an alternative learning program for incarcerated students and is part of the Yuba County Office of Education (YCOE) school district.

"The CTE program was implemented by YCOE to focus on getting at-risk youth into programs where they could find employment," explained McAllister. "The number one reason for recidivism, in all of the institutions, is poverty. If people don't have a way of making a good living on the outside, they're going to go back to what they were doing before."

McAllister said this was the first time Carden School, or Camp Singer at juvenile hall, has been entered into the competition. Bobbi Abold, assistant superintendent at YCOE, discovered the opportunity online and suggested to McAllister that they construct a greenhouse like the one he had previously built for the facility. Hilbers Incorporated drew up the plans and Flint Industries covered the costs and supplied materials.

Out of the 36 registered Northern California high schools, less than half of the competing teams completed their building projects. Camp Singer was among the minority that actually finished within the two-day timeframe, and while they didn't place, the youth did garner some prospective full-time employment opportunities upon their release. Instructors said they also received a large number of compliments on the design, craftsmanship, and functionality of their build.

"Because this was our first year, we had limited resources in terms of our tools, time, and ability to work with the students," said McAllister. "Some schools had maybe a decade of experience and $100,000 worth of equipment, but we held our own with just six batteries, 10 drills, and one saw."

Most of the teams constructed sheds, but Camp Singer's project stood out for both its originality and its solar powered thermostat controlled exhaust fan.

"We nick-named it the green-greenhouse," laughed McAllister.

Prior to the competition, Robert Koller, YCOE's special education coordinator, said some of the incarcerated students had been coming to the Yuba County Career Preparatory Charter School to learn welding and gain certification. So far this program has fully certified 10 student welders.

"The CTE program has really gone above and beyond to support these students," said Koller. "Each welding student is even given their own brand new mask, which is a big deal for prospective welders."

YCOE Superintendent Francisco Reveles felt some of the students' success in the Design Build Competition has come from their work in the welding program. During the two-day event, a large fight was reported to have broken out among some of the other schools close to where McAllister and his team were working. But McAllister said he was proud to see his group remain calm and continue working without getting sucked into the drama.

"It's a psychological construct," explained Reveles. "One of the words we have for it is 'operational hope,' which means its hope by doing. Now that they've had a chance to practice new behaviors, and once they learn what it's like to be in construction, to be responsible, and to have a plan, it's very hard for them to go back."

Koller and McAllister were encouraged to see these "at-promise" teens exercising their new skills in teamwork, reliability, and resilience. The term "at promise" is the new designation for "at-risk youth" in California's penal and education codes. At promise is intended to mitigate the negative connotations associated with "at risk" and encourage a positive mindset within that demographic.

Reveles thinks Camp Singer's participation in the Design Build Competition, and the CTE program, are prime examples of the collaborations taking place between juvenile services, YCOE, Yuba County Career Preparatory Charter School, and Carden School.

"This is part of our overall plan at the YCOE, to reach out to all our students, which includes incarcerated youth and those living in riskier conditions," added Reveles.

For Koller and McAllister, the best part of the competition was hearing feedback from students who said it was an experience they'd remember for the rest of their lives.

"The competition was filled with blood, sweat and tears, but I was extremely proud of their accomplishment," said McAllister. "They went above and beyond the expectations, and it was really enjoyable."

"They rose to the challenge, presented themselves, and were professional," added Koller. "I was completely impressed."

The completed greenhouse is now set to be sold, and the proceeds will be used to buy more tools and supplies for next year's program.


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