Building The Future At Hoover High

Hoover High School students outside the new Green Construction Technology Building.Photo courtesy of Greg Quirin

The future of education is on full display at Hoover High School in City Heights.

No longer are science, geometry, history, and English being treated as separate subjects. Instead, they are woven into a cutting-edge industrial arts program based in a new, ultra-modern shop building that is the most technologically advanced in the San Diego Unified School District.

The 5,700-square-foot, Green Construction Technology Building on the western edge of the campus was dedicated Feb. 29. It is the first in the district to secure the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver Certification by the Green Building Certification Institute, said Greg Quirin, program specialist with the San Diego Unified School District’s Office of College, Career & Technical Education. The designation means the facility’s design, which includes ample natural lighting and the use of solar energy, met construction standards for sustainable design and green building strategies.

But the key, school and district officials say, is the instruction taking place inside the new digs. Under what the school calls the Sustainable Academy of Building & Engineering course sequence, which teachers here refer to as the SABE program, the 70 or so students enrolled in the effort take English, Earth science, geometry, algebra, world history, woodworking, literature and green technology classes that are interrelated with the projects they create. For example, students making furniture use algebra and geometry in their design work and English in writing up a project proposal. World history lessons would be incorporated into researching the evolution of tables, chairs and cabinets.

“It makes for a much more constructive program,” said Karen Aguilar, who is the director of the SABE academy and who also teaches mathematics. “Students will be meeting their graduation requirements while anchoring it to something they’re interested in,” such as woodworking.

Because the focus is on green technology, students also will be preparing themselves for professions in a growth industry, Quirin said.

“This is not a classroom where you’re going to build a birdhouse,” Quirin said. “You’re going to build furniture. You’re going to research your project, write a proposal for it, and use mathematical elements to design it. And you’re going to build it in a modern, environmentally sensitive building that relies on renewable resources.”

In fact, all the wood that students will be using to craft their projects has been salvaged from elsewhere; just outside the building lie huge beams removed from the old bleachers at a recently renovated football field. They will be used to make everything from furniture to guitars.

Vice Principal Andy Trakas said the strategy incorporates what is known as “project-based learning,” a strategy that uses common sense. Referring to students who will be designing and making acoustic guitars in the new building, he said, “Why not bring in the math, why not bring in the music, why not bring in the science?”

The nearly $3.9 million facility was funded by the school district’s Proposition S bond and state matching grants. The building has huge windows that virtually eliminate the need for lights, and giant vacuum tubes that suck out sawdust and other particles so common in traditional wood shops. The classroom, which includes a Promethean whiteboard, is separated from the construction lab by double-pane, soundproof windows.

It replaces a decaying woodshop across a walkway that was ventilated by oscillating fans and blanketed in dust.

“Everything is state of the art here,” woodworking instructor Arturo Gonzalez said of the new building. “You can’t compare it to what we had.”