"The Ultimate Playground"

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By Don Pace

Once they start classes in the technologies department, West Las Vegas High School students soak up knowledge in the latest innovations in high technology.

“Talk about hands-on activities. That is the ultimate playground for these students surrounded by high-tech instruments,” Principal Gene Parson said.

Teacher Etta Bustos said every class she teaches is different, beginning with the first-period yearbook class, where students are involved with every facet of the production, including the front-cover design.

Students also produce and edit a DVD containing everything that’s in the yearbook plus snippets of every activity that took place through the school year.

Entering the laboratory, one sees computer numeric-controlled equipment that drives the various lathes, routers and milling machines. Bustos said what that means is students program a computer that converts the language into a code that talks to the machine that makes everything from 3D modeling of wax figures to designs and wood carving.

Students also have access to a flight simulator where they learn the basics of flight.

“It’s comparable to taking the first few weeks at a flight training school. We have a curriculum for every module we teach. For example, when learning about global positioning system mapping, they actually go outside with GPS equipment and do all the topologies,” Bustos said.

Senior Krystle Tapia was busy stamping a West Las Vegas Don’s design on T-shirts at a station using a vinyl pattern designed by other students.

“I like the class. It’s fun, and there’s a lot of cool stuff to do,” Tapia said.

At another station, students learn the finer points of aerodynamics using a wind tunnel. Down the way, students learn about computerized drafting and manufacturing using machinable wax to make three-dimensional figures.

“When students take this class, they don’t seem to have any free time. They are totally engaged with what they are doing because it’s what they want to do and they’re not in the book all the time. There’s a lot of hands-on learning and at the same time they are learning a trade,” Bustos said.

Bustos said many of her students go on to work in filmmaking, photography and other fields related to work being done under the technologies umbrella.

Senior Charise Romero said she likes the class because of the variety of things she gets to make and learn about. Steven Rivera, a junior, agrees with Romero but admits that attention to detail is important because some of the machines are very complicated.

Unlike most teachers who specialize in a certain subject, Bustos has to be on top of the latest advances in technology.

“I’m not just teaching one subject. Sometimes I don’t know if I’m coming or going,” she said with a laugh.

Parson said he applauds what Bustos has achieved, but notes tongue-in-cheek, “She kind of kicked and screamed when we brought her up to the high school from the middle school. But I think once she realized the potential of the class and how much she can effectuate change in a positive way for her students, she says, ‘You know what? I don’t want to go anywhere else — I want to stay here.’”