By Tracy Correa
BAKERSFIELD – There were a lot of getting-to-know-you questions this week as a dozen PG&E employees met students from the New Energy Academy at Independence High School that they will help guide and advise over the next eight months.
On Tuesday (Sept. 17), they gathered in small groups in the library and classrooms marking the first time they came together this school year. They will continue to meet once a month on campus.
Students were asked why they enrolled in the academy and, for the most part, they were very honest: “My mom said it would help me get hired,” said Oreaa Stennett.
“I’m in this class because I just want to learn how the world works,” said student Jacqlynn Gray.
A dozen PG&E employees in Bakersfield are serving as volunteer mentors – twice as many as last year.
In his first meeting with students, PG&E electrician Byron McArthur used his personal experience to stress the importance of finding out what you like to do and sticking with it: “I took an electrical class in junior high and I said, ‘I like this.’ ”
The mentoring program is just one way the utility has helped foster the relationship between students at its first-of-its-kind academies in Northern and Central California. Located at Foothill High in Sacramento, Venture Academy in Stockton, Edison High in Fresno and Berkeley High – the New Energy Academy program immerses students in energy subjects, better preparing them for college and energy careers with a focus on green technology. (See a video of the program’s first graduating class.)
Kim Woolf, New Energy Academy instructor at Independence High, said teens often tune out teachers and parents, but the professional mentors bring a different adult voice into their lives. “They accept their wisdom with a greater appreciation,” she said.
The mentors help students with a wide range of topics – from providing insight into careers to helping them understand what it takes to be successful in the work place, said Woolf.
Every student in the PG&E-funded academy gets a mentor and great effort has been taken to pair returning students with the mentors they had the year before. In addition to PG&E, professionals from other energy-industry fields in Kern County also volunteer their time as mentors.
There are more than 70 mentors giving their time this school year at Independence High – a number that is up just as the number of New Energy Academy students has increased by 15 students to 162. The academy is “maxed out” this year in terms of enrollment and was unable to accept all the students who applied, said Woolf.
There is no doubt the mentoring is successful. On exit surveys, 99 percent of graduating seniors, said that mentoring had the greatest impact on them, she said.
Denise Newton, interim manager of energy solutions and service in Bakersfield and a returning mentor, fired away questions at a group of about a dozen male students in a classroom in an effort to get to know them better.
She talked to them about the importance of higher education and reminded them that the PSAT (preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test) was coming up and that they should plan on taking it.
“How did you decide that you wanted to go to college?” Christiano Magdaleno asked Newton. The question led to more conversation and a discussion on trade schools and community college for those who might not be ready for a university.
Sixteen-year-old Fernando Montes, a junior, said he is glad to have a mentor for the second year. He said taking part in mentoring has made him more disciplined: “I found myself managing my time better and being more focused.”
Several students at Venture Academy in Stockton are also being mentored by PG&E employees. In addition to mentoring, PG&E has helped New Energy Academy students with hands-on learning and field trips to places like the utility’s Pacific Energy Center in San Francisco. Students have also interned or job shadowed PG&E workers.
E-mail Tracy Correa at Tracy.Correa@pge.com.