Anderson W. Clark Magnet High School celebrated the opening of its new $6.5 million manufacturing lab last week, a much-anticipated effort at the school which was first approved in April 2021.
The lab, which was paid for by Career Technical Education Incentive Grant funds and district Measure S bonds, will be used for a variety of programs at Clark including manufacturing, robotics, engineering, technology literacy, coding and design.
Teacher Aram Ohanis, who began at Clark two-and-a-half years ago — when the site was merely a slab of dirt — said a lab of this stature in a high school is rare and is one of only a handful across the state. Equipped with machines for woodworking, laser, milling, 3D printing and more, the lab is “a big deal,” Ohanis said.
Neighboring schools are also invited to come explore and take advantage of Clark’s facility, he added, noting “We’re fortunate to have all this equipment around here so we also do like to share our wealth. Our doors are open.”
Clark Interim Principal Mark Rubio echoed Ohanis’ assessment of the lab’s quality.
“I’m told that what we make available to our kids is more sophisticated and more complete than even some of the programs at universities like USC,” Rubio said.
Since Ohanis’ time at Clark, he has seen the number of robotics students more than double and believes with the addition of the new lab, this growth will continue. Currently, the robotics elective program is 60% male students and 40% female students.
The lab has its very own built-in robot arena where students can practice and test their machines’ skills through obstacles. This is especially useful for students on Clark’s competition robotics team, “Team Circuitbreakers 696,” who are currently building their robot for the 2024 FIRST Robotics Championship. The Circuitbreakers have made it to the FRC world championships the last two years in a row and were ranked 16th in the world in 2022.
While Ohanis loves seeing students take pride in their accomplishments, he says the most important thing is that they are learning and taking ownership of their projects.
“[Other teams are] heavily mentor driven,” he said. “We don’t believe in that so much. We believe in letting the kids do everything. So even if they fail, they are still learning the why, so it’s a big deal for them [to have gone so far in the competition].”
Prior to having an arena within the lab, the robotics team had to transport two, 400-pound mats to lay out in the school gym for the robots to roam on — in addition to building and taking apart an obstacle course-like structure — every time they practiced.
In addition to coding, design, engineering and assembly skills, students on the robotics team also get to learn business skills as they must negotiate with businesses to sponsor their robots. Current sponsors include NASA, JPL, Haas Automation, Walt Disney and Glendale Economic Development Corporation.
Similar to the creative freedom he gives to his robotics students, Ohanis encourages students enrolled in manufacturing to come up with their own design concepts and gives them tools to execute these visions.
“It’s more interesting for people to make something they like versus just giving them projects to keep them busy,” Ohanis said. “I’ve had students who want to do a lot of complex things, so it works out well.”
Ohanis compares teaching students how to use the machinery in the lab to learning how to drive. Though it may be “intimidating” at first to navigate unfamiliar gadgets and buttons, he says students can learn quickly if they apply themselves.
“A kid could walk in the lab and walk out with a world of knowledge,” Ohanis said.
In addition to providing students with the tools to develop and strengthen their manufacturing and technical skills, Clark also works with organizations like JPL and Glendale Community College to create work and educational opportunities for students.
While robotics and manufacturing are offered as elective courses, Rubio explained that Clark has a “wheel” program for ninth graders to explore these subjects and more. Every 10 weeks, ninth graders rotate between engineering, manufacturing, robotics, animation, coding and computer applications where they learn Microsoft, information technology and cybersecurity.
Ohanis is grateful for the learning opportunities Clark can provide, especially given the value of technical skills in today’s employment sector.
“Compared to a lot of other high schools, we are up there as far as our lab, our equipment, what we teach and how we teach,” he said. “We’re going to capitalize on this building and we’re going to maximize its use and it’ll be fruitful for our students.”
First published in the January 20 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.