When it was announced that Schurr High School, home of the Mighty Spartans, won the team spirit award everyone clapped wildly. Schurr had certainly earned it. I had heard all day about the excessive amount of sharing Schurr had done: a seat belt to one team, a wheel to another team.
As the clapping subsided people were looking around for Schurr High School students. They weren't there, neither was Armando Hernandez, the instructor. I heard that Armando's brother had helped during the event, but Armando had to get his brother home at a certain time.
All the high school kids had come on a bus, and they had already left.
Armando Hernandez is the automotive instructor at George Schurr High School in Montebello, CA. Schurr is one of six high schools enrolled in this event. In fact, last year Mater Dei High School won the Shell Eco-marathon Americas last year, setting a 2,843 miles per gallon. Schurr won first class in the LPG group, but they were the only team in that class.
You can tell the team is scrappy when you walk into their stall. There are too many cars, and not enough instructors. All the other stalls have one car and anywhere from 3–10 instructors working with less than ten kids. Armando has five cars, two gasoline and three LPG cars. It appears that he is the only instructor. This was more than a little bit ambitious.
Superintendent of Montebello Unified School District, Eddie Velasquez said that of the 3,400 kids attending Schurr High School, sixty percent of them are in the "free and reduced lunch," or poverty level. Schurr is mainly Hispanic, and this program is an after school program that is keeping some of these kids from being on the street.
Hernandez's class is an after school program for the students, but Valesquez says that it is developing into something bigger. "We are restructuring to make this part of a secondary education program." Hernandez explained it, "It's a bridge program. The kids get dual enrollment and dual credit from two colleges. They learn fiberglass protection, we built our own mold, our own plugs. We get support from a lot of academic groups."
For the last 30 years the Golden Bell award has been awarded to programs that promote excellence in education by recognizing outstanding programs in school districts. A challenge like this takes 200–300 hours of after hours time during the year. Armando's commitment to the Shell Eco-marathon is one reason that Hernandez received the coveted 2008 Golden Bell award.
As we stood waiting for one of the pods to come around the track the students were lamenting that this would be the last year. "Three of us are Seniors, so we won't be back. There is no funding for this program and Armando put his own money into this program."
Paul Gothold, Director of Curriculum instruction, 9–12, says that "pulling the plug on this program is not even an option." Both Superintendent Velasquez and Director Gothold assured me that Hernandez would get repaid any money he put out, and that this program would continue. Gothold told me that, "this program has qualified for Prop 1D money that will allow Hernandez to have a brand new facility."
Some of these kids are on their last chance, some have all F's on their report cards, and one has already flunked out of school. Not all kids learn the same way. Some children excel in class and at tests, some need hands-on training. This is the one class where these kids excel.
It's not Hernandez's goal to test the limits of the car, but to test the limits of his students. "We suffer today from a lack of expectation in our communities. The students need to test themselves on a regular basis. I expect a lot of them. If they can learn how to test themselves here, this will instill that in them, I will be happy. Complacency is a problem that is ailing them."
More inner-city high schools could use a program like this, but it takes people willing to go the extra mile to make it work. Armando Hernandez has gone that extra mile with these kids.
If you have time and are willing to get your hands dirty, contact Armando Hernandez at Schurr High School, and see what you can do to help him next year.
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