Students at Back Bay High School design their futures at campus Spyder

The bell rang Wednesday morning at Back Bay High School to signal the end of the second half. However, few students in classroom 1A moved a single inch, opting instead to carry on their work unaffected.

The machines hummed and lasers were used to cut wood. Another station had designs printed onto fabric or sticker paper. Students reached out to each other, and then to Jason Kovac, teacher and mentor. From the sidelines, district staff witnessed the activities taking place in Back Bay’s own Spyder Lab, which was two years in the planning.

Spyder Lab, a school program that is work-based, allows students to learn skills for graphic media careers as well as entrepreneurship. Brea is the consultant’s home and has labs at schools throughout Orange County, including Back Bay. However, the Spyder Lab in Back Bay is the only one with this caliber within the Newport-Mesa Unified school District.

“This program itself is training students in a one-year period of time to run a business and be certified in all of the machinery in this room. They’re building an amazing portfolio to go into the industry; whether they’re getting certified in QuickBooks — they’re going to learn how to operate an actual business— but it’s also all these pieces of machinery,” career technical education program analyst Anne Younglove said.

Davian Gonzalez, 17, top left, and Christian Martinez, 17, top right, use an eco-solvent printing and cutting machine.

Davian Gonzalez, 17, top left, and Christian Martinez, 17, top right, use an eco-solvent printing and cutting machine to create ‘Proud supporter of BBHS Spyder Lab’ stickers during an open house on Wednesday of the new Spyder Lab at Back Bay High School.

(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

In 2020, plans to create the $200,000 Spyder Lab at campus were put on hold due to the pandemic. The lab was built over the summer and final installations were completed in September. According to district officials, about 80% of the funding came from state career technical education grants. The remainder was provided by the school district.

“It has been our goal for many years to bring a pathway back to this school. They had one eight years ago and this worked out very well because it’s a one-year pathway and the students are taking two courses every quarter and they’re side-by-side,” said Younglove. “So, they’re really in this classroom for about two hours a day, five days a week.”

Younglove stated that she was first introduced to Spyder Labs by a presentation at the Orange County Department of Education.

“I thought, ‘With grant money, this is completely possible to do anywhere.’ But the one place where we really need it most is the place where students need to get work as soon as possible and also get credit,” said Younglove. “So, what’s great about this is that the things they’re learning in here they can continue on into community college and go into any of the graphics things. They’re learning all the Adobe applications, so there’s lot of diversification. They can go into digital media, business, graphic design, … the clothing industry, which is huge here.”

A student prepares 'Proud supporter of BBHS Spyder Lab' stickers during an open house.

A student prepares ‘Proud supporter of BBHS Spyder Lab’ stickers during a staff open house of the new Spyder Lab at Back Bay High School.

(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Spyder Lab’s walls are covered with products designed and printed in class by a handful of students. According to Back Bay senior Davian Gonzal, the students created blue hexagonal wall coverings with one of the machines.

Gonzalez, 17, claimed he is from Newport Harbor High School. He said he wasn’t doing well in school and ended up coming to Back Bay, where he felt “relief” and was able to find time to work on himself.

He said the class is challenging and requires work, but that he’s really enjoyed learning about a trade that he could do straight out of high school. He expressed his desire to be able to work in a similar environment and use the same machines.

To help students learn how to run a business, they are also divided into five different roles. Students can choose to be a general manager or office manager, a production manager, a sales representative, or a creative manager on each project. There are different responsibilities for each role.

Lindsey Sanchez, 17, prints a "Merry Christmas" graphic design on a tote bag as a gift for a friend.

Lindsey Sanchez, 17, prints a “Merry Christmas” graphic design on a tote bag as a gift for a friend during a staff open house of the new Spyder Lab at Back Bay High School.

(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“This showed me there’s a business type to this because we do make this stuff. We can see the business, production and marketing. [We learn] How much everything costs and what happens if it goes wrong. That’s basically something that I like and I think a lot of students will like too,” said Gonzalez.

Back Bay senior Lindsey Sanchez said she wasn’t sure about the class at first. She said she didn’t think any of the knowledge she’d acquire would be useful, but her interest really took off once she learned clothing and other products could be made in the Spyder Lab.

Sanchez began with the direct-to garment printer. She is now learning how to use the laser cutter. She said she recently visited an artists’ market and saw wooden music boxes on sale. Sanchez explained that she saw similar products at an artist’s market and realized she could make them and sell them.

Sanchez stated that she would like to return to the machine after she graduates to mentor future students.

“I want to show other students how you work the machines, what you know from the machines … it’s not bad to ask for help. You always can ask for help and that’s what I like about [the staff mentors],” said Sanchez.

A student prints on a T-shirt using a direct to garment printer.

During a Back Bay High School staff open house, a student prints a T-shirt with a direct-to-garment printer.

(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

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