PG&E Bright Ideas grant helps students in Kern County’s YouthBuild program learn how to install solar panels
By Tracy Correa
It was a toasty 90 degrees today (May 2) in this small town about 20 miles outside of Bakersfield, perfect to catch the sun’s rays as three homes here had new solar panels installed.
Students with YouthBuild, a program that helps struggling students with school and job skills, install solar panels on a home in rural Kern County.
The solar installation project was unique in that more than a dozen students performed the work as part of the YouthBuild program through the Kern County Superintendent of Schools. And the program received a $10,000 Bright Ideas Grant award from PG&E to support the workforce training in renewable energy for the 17- to 22-year-olds.
“We want to give these students as many marketable skills as possible,” said construction teacher Joe White with Kern County Superintendent of Schools. He stood watch from below as his students worked on the rooftop with help from GRID Alternatives installers.
There are about 18 students in the YouthBuild program and 75 percent of them are high school dropouts trying to get back on track to earn their diplomas, White said. The program focuses on academics (through independent study) and learning skills (through on-the-job training). Additionally, it stresses leadership development and community service.
Bakersfield student Frank Raygoza, 19, said he appreciates the hands-on learning. He also said it doesn’t hurt that the program pays students $8 per hour to work. “It’s cool and a good trade,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot easier to get a job with the training.”
Through the program, Raygoza and his classmates have learned how to install solar panels, do concrete work, install drywall, perform landscaping work and paint homes.
White said the paid jobs and training are part of the bait to get students back to school and back on track academically.
Yvette Vasquez, of Bakersfield, is one of the four women in the construction class, but said she doesn’t mind. “I feel like it’s a valuable experience,” she said.
Over the past few days, the 17-year-old Vasquez has learned how to do the wiring on the solar inverter that converts DC to AC current. “I helped to do the electrical for three houses… And, I got faster after the first one,” she said.
There are 273 YouthBuild programs nationwide working with approximately 10,000 young adults at risk of not completing their high school educations. The program matches the skills training component with local, affordable housing programs. In Lamont, for example, the solar installations benefitted residents who acquired their homes through Self-Help Enterprises.
During the installation, students and representatives from Kern County Superintendent of Schools took a break to receive a special Bright Ideas Grant glass award from Kristen Doud, community relations representative based in Kern County.
With awards of up to $10,000, PG&E’s Bright Ideas Grants program helps support the understanding of renewable energy in public schools throughout PG&E’s Northern and Central California service area. This year, PG&E announced grants to 37 recipients totaling more than $255,000.
This story originally was published HERE.