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Manteca Unified Board of Trustees Don Scholl, Manuel Medeiros and Evelyn Moore assist First Responders students in cutting the ribbon at the opening of the vocational academys simulated town facilities on Thursday. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

A whole town celebrated the grand opening Thof Academy’s First Responders class with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Town, which is located on the grounds of the Manteca Unified School District property at West Louise Avenue and Airport Way, is actually a simulation of a real town complete with a major intersection named Crisis and Disaster streets, power lines, and businesses that resembles a thriving business district.

The urban simulation has been in place since the opening of the school year in August when First Responders, the third vocational class offered by Manteca Unified’s vocational charter school, opened with 22 students enrolled. Thursday evening’s ribbon-cutting ceremony officially marked its opening to the public, said Diane Medeiros, the principal of Academy and the district’s Adult School, during her welcome speech. Several First Responders students stepped forward after Medeiros’ speech to offer brief messages of their own, then joined in the symbolic cutting of the ribbon. Doing the honors were First Responders students Cathaline Romerra and Tiana Muschott from Sierra High School, assisted by Board of Trustees officials Manuel Medeiros, Evelyn Moore, and board president Don Scholl. 

The mock streetscape, designed to simulate emergency scenarios, will be used to stage training sessions for the students under various situations to which first responders are mobilized. A pair of power lines, planted on each corner of Crisis and Disaster streets, are installed in such a way that they can be made to “fall” across the intersection during a catastrophe. At one end of Crisis Street is an overturned school bus.

Main Street, with a four-way stop sign and pedestrian crossings, is lined with various businesses, some of which have names that are quite familiar: Buffalo Pizza, Timberwolves Exotic Pets, Spartans’ Savings & Loan, Cougars’ Collectibles Sports Memorabilia, and Aaron’s Antiquities. There’s also a Post Office and a Be First City Offices.

“This simulated city sets a unique tone for our school site,” Medeiros said, referring to the campus that includes Culinary Arts and Industrial whose students were present at the celebration as well. The Culinary Arts students set up a booth where guests could help themselves to some of their palate-pleasing kitchen creations. The Industrial students opened their shop in the back of the cityscape where they gave demonstrations of their welding skills and displayed their ongoing welding projects.

An obelisk-like towering feature on the campus attracted a lot of attention as well. It’s a rock-climbing wall which the First Responders students use for exercise as well as to strengthen their muscles, a requirement for their training and studies. While the rock-climbing is part of their curriculum, office manager Kelly Wilson said the students don’t need any incentive to do this physical activity.

“They love it so much, sometimes their teacher makes it a treat,” she said.

Medeiros said Academy is the fulfillment of a vision by the district’s Board of Trustees which was then successfully transformed into reality by Superintendent Jason Messer whom she described as “so student-centered.”

“Manteca wouldn’t be what it is without the board that we have,” she said.