Students at Back Bay High School design their futures at campus’ new Spyder Lab
The bell rang Wednesday morning to mark the end of the second period at Back Bay High School, but few of the students in classroom 1A moved an inch from their seats, instead choosing to continue their work undeterred.
Machines hummed with activity and lasers cut into wood. At other stations designs were printed onto fabric and sticker paper. Students called out to one another, then to mentors and teacher Jason Kovac for assistance. 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 is a work-based school program that allows students to gain skills for graphic media careers and entrepreneurship. The consultant itself is based in Brea and has labs in schools all over Orange County, including in Back Bay. Though, the Spyder Lab at Back Bay is the only one of its caliber in 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.
Plans to establish the $200,000 Spyder Lab on campus were made in 2020, but were temporarily tabled during the pandemic. The lab was constructed over the summer, with final installations accomplished in late September. About 80% of its funding comes from state career technical education grants and the remainder from the school district, according to district officials.
“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 said she first heard of Spyder Labs through a presentation with 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.”
The walls of the Spyder Lab are adorned with items designed and printed by the handful of students enrolled in the class, including laser-cut wood and leather carvings and printed totes, shirts and socks. The students even created the blue hexagonal wall coverings using one of the machines, according to Back Bay senior Davian Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, 17, said he came 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 said his goal is to one day use similar machines while employed by a business.
In addition to learning how to operate, students are also split up into five different roles to mirror a business. Students are expected to either become a general manager, office manager, production manager, sales representative or a creative director on each project with different responsibilities in each role.
“This showed me there’s a business type to this because we do make this stuff. We get to see the marketing, the production and the business side. [We learn] how much everything costs; what happens if something goes bad. 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 started off on the direct-to-garment printer, but is currently working on learning the laser cutter. She said she recently visited an artists’ market and saw wooden music boxes on sale. Sanchez said she realized then that she could make similar products and sell them herself.
Now, Sanchez said she wants to come back after she graduates this year to help mentor other prospective students on how to use the machinery.
“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.
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