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Posted on June 5, 2013

Bakersfield: Hands-On Projects Help Disabled Students Learn About the Power of the Sun

By Tracy Correa

BAKERSFIELD – The wooden shed isn’t huge and it isn’t likely to attract a lot of attention in the back corner of the school parking lot, but it means a lot to the students in teacher Tim Horton’s classroom because they made it.

Teacher Tim Horton, far right, and his students at Bakersfield’s Schuetz Career Center, stand in front of the solar shed they recently built with a PG&E grant. (Photos by Tracy Correa.)

“I put the nails in the shed. And I helped hold up the boards,” said Horacio Duran, 21, who recently demonstrated how he held the hammer.

Duran is one of 10 intellectually disabled students who helped build the 8-foot-by-8-foot shed that will soon be topped with solar panels. The plan is to have solar powering a light and watering system for a nearby garden of vegetables, fruit and flowers the students planted.

Earlier this year, PG&E awarded teacher Tim Horton’s ABLE (Adult Based Life Experience) class a $2,500 Bright Ideas grant that was used to build the shed and plant the garden as part of the Able to Conserve Energy program. The class at the Schuetz Career Center is a post-high school adult transition program that teaches basic and vocational skills for 18-to 22-year old students in the Kern High School District.

Pride of ownership

There’s no doubt, the students enjoyed building the shed and learning about the power of the sun – from solar energy to how the sun helps a garden grown. And their pride in ownership is evident.

Ellie Mardesich takes special care of the garden her class planted at Schuetz Career Center in Bakersfield.

“My favorite part is the garden,” said 19-year-old student Ellie Mardesich. She is more than happy to point out her favorite flower – the marigold – and explain how she helps tend the garden, just like the one she cares for at her own home.

She said she liked learning about solar power. “I think it’s cool. I think it will help the planet. Then she smiles, adding, “I’m a science geek, I guess you could say.”

The hands-on projects are major accomplishments for the students who struggle a little more with basic tasks. “They did it… the trim, the siding and framing,” said Horton, who was impressed by their workmanship.

Horton worked in construction before becoming a teacher five years ago and was helpful in overseeing the build. And, he called in a few favors as he tried to stretch the money as far as possible when ordering supplies – from lumber to solar panels.

Jesus Encizo, 19, showed off the solar panels that will eventually go on the roof when it is finished. “It makes me happy, because I helped,” he said.

First a shed, then a garden

Not only did the students build the shed, but they poured the concrete slab that it sits on. The class also built the wooden flower beds surrounding the shed where they planted jalapenos, bell pepper, tomatoes and mint. Just this week, a tiny jalapeno – the first — was spotted in the garden. “The goal is to supply some of the produce to the [school] kitchen,” said Horton.

Student Miguel Fuentes stands in the doorway of the solar shed he and classmates built.

The projects wouldn’t have happened with PG&E funding, said the teacher. “The grant created the outdoor laboratory to grow plants and see how solar power works.”

Horton, who is recovering from hand surgery, is still looking for some additional assistance on installing the solar panels and hopes to get it done soon.

PG&E’s Bright Ideas program was designed to support the understanding of the energy industry in public schools throughout Northern and Central California. Since the program began in 2005, nearly $2 million has been awarded to more than 300 schools throughout PG&E’s service territory. Grants range from $1,000 to $10,000.

E-mail Tracy Correa at





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