High school in the traditional sense wasn’t for Kassandra Martinez. During her freshman and sophomore years at Everett Alvarez High School, she decided to just stay home, figuring her mom wouldn’t notice because she’d already left for work.
But that plan caught up with her, and Martinez started looking for an alternate path. That path led her to Rancho Cielo, where next week she will enroll in the first class at the nonprofit’s newest academy for agricultural mechanics and electrical.
The Ted Taylor Ag Vocational Center opens Aug. 13 for students ages 16-24 seeking an alternative way to earn a high school diploma, as well as vocational training. The ag program will be the nonprofit’s third academy, in addition to culinary and construction programs, serving up to 40 students at a time. (There’s still space for about 15 in the inaugural ag program.) Some classes will be taught by Hartnell instructors, and curriculums are coordinated.
The new facility and first three years of programming are covered thanks to a $10 million capital campaign.
Rancho Cielo CEO Susie Brusa says graduates can expect to land jobs doing repair and maintenance in salad plants, earning $18-$22 per hour, and if they pass a certification test as refrigeration techs, starting pay is $25 an hour.
“This is not starting at the bottom, these are really good jobs that are in demand,” Brusa says.
Martinez, 17, is torn between dreams of becoming a cop or maybe a mechanic. She recalls spending summers as a kid visiting her grandfather’s corn farm in Sinaloa, Mexico, where she would fiddle with cars and trucks.
“It’s funny,” she says. “When I was little, he says I would complain about it.”