A student car wash fund raiser is a common site on just about any Saturday in our community. But when the fund raiser is held at a school that has yet to open its’ doors for classes, the event takes on a special significance.The car wash was held in late July to tie in with the community open house for Merced’s newest high school: El Capitan High School (ECHS).
Among the many things I had to grow accustomed to when I started living in California nine years ago was the start of the new school year in August. Keep in mind I’m a transplant from another part of the country. Most schools in the northeast United States begin classes on the day after Labor Day.
El Capitan High School is located at the city’s northernmost border. The school is setting the stage to be the jewel in the district’s crown. At the very least, it has one outstanding benefit: on a clear day outside the east side classrooms, students may enjoy a view of the Sierras. When I was in high school, the closest thing to a distraction outside the classroom window was watching a local farmer operate his manure spreader.
This campus speaks state of the art at every level. During that recent community open house tour, my wife and I learned there would be no student lockers. Each student will have a laptop where all their textbooks will be digitally stored. We saw the library that will have very few paper books but lots of computer connectivity.
Outside, there are two football fields, many tennis courts, numerous outdoor basketball courts, and a large swimming pool. You get the feeling that once classes begin, there will hardly be any time when there isn’t some sort of activity going on among these outdoor athletic facilities.
Inside, there is a large gymnasium with lots of room for fans to cheer on the El Capitan Gauchos. There’s also a smaller “practice gym” with no spectator seats. My wife joked that when she went to school the practice gym was better known as the “girls gym”. Thank goodness those days are behind us.
There’s a large quad in the middle of the array of buildings. The quad includes an amphitheater. The design will encourage social interaction. Our tour guide at the open house, an incoming freshman named Markus, says he is really impressed with the trash cans that have the school name cut through the metal.
750 students will make El Capitan their academic home this year. In their first academic year at ECHS, only freshmen and sophomores will attend. Incoming freshmen will join the student population over the next two years so that by 2015, the school will serve students in all four high school grade levels. Eventually, the student population will rise to about 1,800.
It is an exciting time for students at El Capitan High School. The start of a new academic cycle is always special. At schools throughout Merced County, students should be coming back to shinny floors, freshly painted walls, and updated landscapes. They will come prepared with new school supplies, new school clothes, and maybe a change in hairstyle. With any luck, they should also be welcomed by recharged faculty, encouraged by energized parents, and basking in a culture of lifelong learning.
Those students raising money for their school activities are doing much more than washing cars. They are engaging in a journey that offers knowledge, connectivity, and community service.
We should all be optimistic for the promise of this new school year.