Eric Johnson spent the past 14 years teaching students how to build “green” or alternative energy projects at Laguna Creek High School.
They constructed solar suitcases or portable solar energy devices for donation to underprivileged youths in Sierra Leone.
Students also designed and built solar-powered boats to compete against high school and college students in SMUD’s annual Solar Regatta, construct hydroelectric generators in 5-gallon buckets, and helped build “Tiny Houses” or one-room, portable houses for homeless veterans.
“We’re developing students for the workforce, and it doesn’t have to be in green energy,” Johnson said about his school’s Green Energy Technology Academy (GETA). “Are these students that can creatively think? Can they design? Can the problem-solve? Can they collaborate? Even if they don’t go into green energy, we’re still proud of the work-ready students and postsecondary students we are creating.”
However, academy students often had to work on their projects in cramped classrooms and carefully step around large materials.
“I can’t tell you how many times I took a 2×4 and did this to the ceiling,” Johnson said while mimicking an act of not trying to hit a ceiling with a board.
The academy will have a new, 6,000-square-foot home at the Laguna Creek High campus. There will be a workshop space as well as two classrooms, and the much-needed high ceiling. Plans are to open the facility next month when the Elk Grove Unified School District’s high schools begin their new academic year.
“It’s super exciting because of how many possibilities there are for everything,” GETA teacher Dave Collins said. “Before the kids wanted to stay after school, and now they’re really going to want to. The hardest part is to keep them working and if the (facility) looks good then they’re going to want to be here.”
Johnson gave the Citizen a tour of the facility’s construction site on July 2. The building neighbors Laguna Creek High’s tennis courts at the back of the campus.
Johnson showed a large room that encompasses most of the building and is lit by sunlight that shines through “solar tubes” on the roof. The teacher said that “accordion” or room dividers will be installed to separate the classrooms and the workshop area. There will also be booths that are dedicated to welding projects.
“Before, we would literally pull everything outside the classroom and set it up,” Johnson called about when they welded at their former classroom.
Three years have passed from the project’s inception to “handing the keys over,” Johnson said. The building’s construction is being funded by $4 million in school district and Proposition 51 funds, he said.
“I wanted to make everything most robust, more relevant, more up to date,” Johnson said.
He said that the academy, which is a four-year program, educates up to 170 students every year.
The teacher views GETA’s new home as a milestone in his 30-year teaching career.
“This is how I retire from this place,” Johnson said.
However, he noted that he’s far from retirement.
“I’ll be 53 this summer but I got all kinds of energy still,” he said. “I’m not burned out at all.”