Todd Gernheuser has owned a farm pump business for many years and knows very well how difficult it can be to find employees with the right skills.
He is now enjoying a rewarding second career as a teacher at a charter high school, where he ensures his students will be successful in construction work and other technical trades after graduation.
Gernheuser teaches engineering at ACE Charter High School in Camarillo, where a classroom can look like a high-tech manufacturing company or a construction site.
About six years ago, his son was a student at Ventura High School and asked him to mentor a robotics team.
It was then that Gernheuser, 58, realized he wanted to change careers.
âBy working with this team and seeing the change they made in her life, I decided I wanted to change my life. I sold my business and started to continue my education as a teacher, âsaid Gernheuser.
He was attracted to teaching at ACE. He knew he could help businesses succeed because his students would be ready to enter the workforce right after graduating from high school.
âI found out as a county employer that there was a skills gap,â Gernheuser said, noting that some workers he had hired didn’t even know how to use a simple wrench.
âIt is very valuable to give children a good set of skills to leave high school, whether they are going to college or entering the world of work,â he said.
Marzieh Nikkhah is another ACE teacher who brings real world experience to students. She studied fine arts and architecture in her native Iran before moving to the United States to work in architecture.
Nikkhah, 42, quit his career as a designer and draftsman five years ago to teach at ACE.
âI wanted to pass this experience I had on to the younger generation so that they can find their way,â she said. ” This is who I am. Because it’s not just about graduating from high school. In fact, we prepare them for life after high school.
16-year-old Avery McGuire is an Oxnard junior who said he loved the campus as soon as he saw it.
Avery knew that studying at ACE would help him pursue his dream of a career combining engineering and music.
âI play the piano so I have an understanding of music theory, but designing and making electric music would be great too,â he said.
ACE also seemed like a friendly and collaborative environment compared to large comprehensive high schools, he said.
There are 260 students at ACE compared to around 2,000 at Adolfo Camarillo High School.
âIf you have a great creative outlet and want to do something that really hones your personal skills, then ACE is a great place to come and experience this with other kids. It’s a great place to interact, âhe said.
One high-profile project that ACE students work on each year is the display of Christmas trees made from canned goods at Ventura’s Mission Park to benefit Food Share, a regional food bank that serves Ventura County.
Several years ago, ACE students built the structures that support the boxes used to build the trees, and now they are helping set up the colorful displays.
Chelsea Darrow, 17, a junior from Moorpark, said she was happy the school could make a difference.
“It was good because we are helping the community since this food is going to go to people in need,” she said. “I think it’s a really good way to figure out how to do things.”
The school was founded in 2010. ACE stands for Architecture, Construction and Engineering. Four courses are offered, in these three subjects as well as in computer science, which function as college majors.
Principal John Middleton, 38, has been with ACE almost since the school was founded.
He graduated from USC during the Great Recession and struggled to find a full-time teaching job, even with a master’s degree. He moved to Camarillo and started as a replacement at ACE before rising through the ranks.
The school began as a partnership between the Ventura County Office of Education and the construction industry, including the leaders of the Sheet Metal Workers Union.
âThey identified a need to interest students in building trades. They were struggling to fill labor shortages, âMiddleton said. âSo we went from a school that was really trying to meet some short-term needs, to a rigorous high school environment where kids can go through a series of classes that prepare them for both college and career. ”
While many ACE graduates go on to college, others start in the construction industry right out of high school with ready-made skills that can pay over $ 70,000 a year for a. apprentice post.
âYou’ll get out of here knowing literally how to build a house,â Middleton said, adding that students get OSHA certifications before they graduate.
ACE is a charter school, so it has its own school board, but is also supervised by the Oxnard Union School District. Students come from all over the region, including some from LA County.
Candidates are chosen on a first come, first served basis. Recruitment is underway for the 2022-23 school year.
Although the school does not have its own athletic programs, students can participate in sports at other schools in the Oxnard Union School District.
Middleton said ACE attracts students with a strong sense of curiosity.
âIt’s a school for thinkers with big ideas. Children who want to build and work with their hands, but also children who ask their parents a thousand times “why” when a parent says something, “he said.
Middleton is encouraging people to take a tour to see if it suits them.
âMost importantly, you will discover your hidden talent. A talent you never knew existed. A passion you never knew existed.
âYou will develop the self-confidence, the skills and the self-confidence to go and do something amazing,â said the manager.