ACE Charter High School builds 14-foot tree for FOOD Share

Boys are working with tools.
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© Stephanie Guzman/Acorn Newspapers
Camarillo residents Max Lerma, 15, and Jesse Elerick, 16, work on a class project at ACE Charter High School. The wooden tree they are building will be used to hold cans at a food drive. © Stephanie Guzman/Acorn Newspapers
Gary Clifford’s high school classroom doesn’t look like a typical classroom with pens, notebooks and textbooks.

Clifford teaches construction at Architecture, Construction and Engineering Charter High School in Camarillo, and the desks are strewn with tape measures, drills and power tools because the school focuses on hands-on learning. An example is the 14-foot Christmas tree Clifford’s students made for FOOD Share.

The students built the wooden Christmas tree, which will hold about 6,000 cans of food, for the Oxnard-based nonprofit’s holiday food drive this weekend, Dec. 7 through 9, at The Collection at Riverpark in Oxnard.

The Collection partnered with FOOD Share and asked the charter school to build the tree. The Collection paid for the project, and Home Depot in Camarillo provided discounts on various building materials.

“I’m impressed the kids have taken such ownership of the tree,” said Ron Fisher, principal of the charter since it opened three years ago. “The kids are having a blast with it.”

The students initially wanted the tree to be 20 feet tall but had to shorten it for safety reasons. At 14 feet high and 8 feet wide, the tree will weigh about 700 pounds. Add thousands of cans of food to the tree and the entire project will tip the scales at 3 tons.

Emily Heulitt, 17, spent two days modeling the project in 3-D using a computer program. The Camarillo resident learned to design digital models in class, something she might not have learned at a typical public high school.

“I was home-schooled and chose to attend ACE Charter High because my mom didn’t feel comfortable with me going to a large campus, and neither did I at the time,” Emily said.

Emily, who was interested in construction because her grandfather is an engineer, said she enjoyed working on a project that was going to be used in the real world.

Clifford and Emily designed the project so that FOOD Share can reuse it. Each piece is numbered, and the tree was made in such a way that anyone can reassemble it.

Raul Muniz, 17, also worked on the project and enjoyed the process so much he went to school on a Saturday to help finish the tree. The Camarillo resident said he helped cut wooden boards for the cans to sit on and spray painted the boards green.

Max Lerma, 15, worked on the concrete base of the tree. He said the project taught him how to cut circles out of a wooden board using a skill saw, an experience he will use in college, where he plans to study mechanical engineering.

The Camarillo resident said he could have gone to a typical high school in Camarillo but chose ACE Charter High because the hands-on instruction offers a different type of learning environment.

“We learn skills in one class and apply them in the next one, and I think that’s a better way to learn,” Max said.

The students have worked on other projects, such as building and painting stages for Camarillo Skyway Playhouse and constructing dozens of wooden benches that line the front of the school.

Oxnard resident Zach

Robinson, 14, said he built three of those benches.

Clifford said about

10 students, including

Zach, loaded several trucks with the tree’s pieces and reassembled it in The Collection’s parking lot on Thursday before the FOOD Share event.

The teacher said he hopes Camarillo residents will drive to Oxnard to see the tree because his students have worked many hours on the project.

“This is something that’s good for the students and the community,” Clifford said. “(The students) gain experience, and we’re also giving back to the community.”

Clifford said the tree was the largest project his classes took on, and he and his students are ready for the next big community project.

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