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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Sindy Fava, left, and Aaron Ford work on their model plane at West High. High school students are getting paid to learn in Workforce Investment Act classes that teach working skills in a classroom setting. The work allows the students to get caught up on credits. Students at the West high program are building a radio-controlled airplane and learning math skills at the same time.

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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Diamond Noey works on the model aircraft wings she is building during a Workforce Investment Act class that teaches working skills in a classroom setting.

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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Teacher Trent Combs helps students Ricardo Estrada, left, and Emilio Evidarte as they build a model radio-controlled airplane. High school students are getting paid to learn in Workforce Investment Act classes that teach working skills in a classroom setting.

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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Sunni Crawford works on the wings of the model airplane he is building during a summer program at West High.

The nearly 20 workers at West High School are learning algebra and building planes: attaching the wings they measured, installing a motor to fit just right and following directions to make sure the radio-controlled planes will actually take flight.

The workers get paid minimum wage and are docked pay if they're late. And if they don't take the work seriously, they can get fired.

They're also teenagers: Kern High School District students in Trent Combs' class who are getting paid to learn during the summer for high school credit.

"I'm holding these students to a different standard," Combs said. "We're working on employee standards, and learning math at the same time."

Combs' "airplanes and algebra" class is just one of a dozen summer classes at KHSD campuses that have students learning work skills while catching up on high school credits.

At Independence High, students in a graphic design class are learning to make brochures. North High students are running a summer sports camp for kids in the community. And at Vista Continuation, they're refurbishing a garden space and cleaning up graffiti.

It's all part of the federal Workforce Investment Act that aims to improve the quality of the workforce, reduce welfare dependency and enhance the productivity and competitiveness of the nation's economy, according to the California Department of Education.

The students learn what it's like to hold a job, but also get 15 high school credits during their stay.

More than $900,000 in federal funds are used to pay for the student salaries (they get $8 an hour), teacher's pay and for class supplies, said Karine Kanikkeberg, a resource teacher with KHSD Career & Workforce Development and a coordinator for the summer classes. In other non-classroom summer programs throughout KHSD, students are placed at work sites throughout town, or work in snack bars on campus.

Emilio Evidarte, a senior at West who is enrolled in Combs' summer class, is a bit behind on credits, he said as he lined up the 60-inch long wings on his plane.

During half of the class, Combs teaches algebra, and the other half students use what they've learned to build the large, wooden planes using rulers and other tools.

At the end of Combs' class, the students will fly the planes, which run on actual fuel. Combs wrote a proposal that helped garner the donated planes and materials.

"It's pretty cool," Evidarte said in class Tuesday. "And we're getting paid for it."

School staff recommend the students for the classes, who must meet certain criteria. The students go through an application process like any other job.

Arvin High teacher Johnny G. Watson focuses his summer class -- Bear Pride Productions -- on teaching students to be good employees. Fifteen student workers run a real television news station using $3 million worth of video production equipment. The school and district purchased the equipment through a grant Watson won.

Students use lessons they've learned throughout high school and apply it to his class: writing scripts, using math to get timing just right and polishing speech skills.

But students also learn, for example, that if they're not on time to class, their paycheck suffers. Now, when he enters the class in the morning, he said, the students are already waiting for him.

"When you start tying dollars to education, they get it. They tend to listen a little bit more for a little bit longer," said Watson, a stringer for KBAK Channel 29. "They also don't ask to use the bathroom as often."

After summer classes are finished, many students go on to work for companies throughout town for the rest of the summer. In fact, about 350 employers in Bakersfield will take in the students at places like Valley Plaza and county offices, Kanikkeberg said.

This year, about 600 students are in the Workforce classes. At one point, in the mid-1990s, there were roughly 2,400 students enrolled, but that was when more federal funds were available. This year there's been a 10 percent cut in federal funding for the program from last year, Kanikkeberg said.

Back in Combs' class, students like Shatonay Williams, a junior at West High, and Diamond Noey, from South High, are having a tough time building their plane and learning algebra, but Combs and their peers help them a bit.

The class, however, is fun, they said, and they're thinking about how they'll use the money they earn. Some students are saving up to buy school clothes, or to fix up and buy cars.

"I'm going to buy shoes," Williams said. "We work hard for the money."