El Capitan High students start using $98M campus

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comAugust 19, 2013 

— The once familiar rumble of tractors and bulldozers was replaced by the sounds of kids scurrying between classes Monday, as El Capitan High School officially opened its doors for the first day of instruction.

Valeria Maldonado, a 15-year-old sophomore, was one of the more than 800 freshmen and sophomores to start school this week on the brand new, $98 million campus. Merced's last high school, Golden Valley, was built in 1994.

"It looks nice, the teachers are nice," Valeria said.

She said she was looking forward to getting her personal computer, which each student will receive this week.

The high schoolers will get a 3-pound laptop instead of dozens of pounds of textbooks.

Principal Anthony Johnson called day one "your typical first day of school."

"For the most part, we're functioning and running normally," Johnson said, adding that any project of El Capitan's size will need to work out some bugs.

"It's great to finally have kids on campus," he added.

The 53-acre campus, replete with more than 100 wi-fi spots, sits on the corner of North G Street and Farmland Avenue.

It's made up of nine buildings, including classrooms, a theater, a gymnasium and administration and agriculture wings.

Waiting in front of the school's office to pick up her freshman daughter, Gladys Moreno said her child was eager to get into the school's technology.

"She's super excited," the 33-year-old said. "She likes the new things, like getting a laptop."

Freshmen and sophomores make up the inaugural year's Gauchos — the school's mascot.

Sophomore Bailey Souza, 15, said she liked that the rooms felt spacious, adding that the desk designs were impressive.

"They're meant to seat two people, so now you can work with partners easier," Bailey said.

The desks hold two seats, and some rotate to allow the students to face each other.

Sam Diele, a business and computer teacher, said those desks can add to collaboration.

"Industry is telling us we need problem solvers — kids that think," Diele said, adding that thinking is often done in teams. "We're trying to foster that concept here."

Diele is one of 36 faculty members on campus. There are also 24 part-time and full-time classified employees.

The high school campus was designed with something of a college feel. Each area of study is sectioned off, so that the math classes are together, science classes are together and so on.

Art teacher Matt Bogard said the design has some practical benefits when it comes to security.

El Capitan's quad, which is about the size of two football fields, runs between the two buildings that house the cafeteria, main office and classrooms.

"It was explained to me that it would be easier for principals and the liaisons to monitor kids for safety reasons," he said.

Bogard said the first day had its share of glitches, but nothing unusual to the beginning of any school year.

Destiny Tamkersley, a 15-year-old sophomore, said all the new technology made her a little nervous.

What didn't make her nervous, she said, was that she'll be in El Capitan's first graduating class.

"I think it's pretty awesome," she said.

Reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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