At Western Sierra YouthBuild, student steps into leadership role |

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At Western Sierra YouthBuild, student steps into leadership role

Ryan Bartsch was about to graduate from Silver Springs High School when he received some surprising news.

He thought he was on track to graduate, but he was told his credits had been calculated incorrectly, and he was actually three credits shy of his diploma.

Bartsch was disappointed, he said. Instead of finishing those three credits the following year, he chose to just continue working.

He spent some time as an employee of a family logging business and then picked up some other part-time tasks. But when he began to apply for full-time positions, he realized he was falling short of the qualifications employers desired.

“Being at this school is a blessing. It’s getting me further into my future and setting me up for what I need to do.”Ryan Bartsch

"They all want your diploma or something like that," Bartsch said.

Bartsch, now 24, found out about Western Sierra YouthBuild, a Grass Valley-based public charter school that provides academic and vocational training to students ages 18-25; students in the program are able to work toward attaining a high school diploma while also completing hands-on job training in fields like construction, retail, landscaping and property management.

The school was a perfect fit for Bartsch; he enrolled last August as part of the school's inaugural class of students.

"That's what I always wanted to do, be in construction," Bartsch said. "So I just went full force with that."

Nine months later, Bartsch is excelling at Western Sierra YouthBuild. He recently became the school's first student to be employed full-time in a student leadership position at the school.

The position is being funded through One Stop Business and Career Center's job-training program.

Under the supervision of Tom Brown, the school's vocational teacher, Bartsch instructs and monitors other students on the school's construction job sites, where they help build homes for Habitat For Humanity.

"I'm so proud of him, I could cry," said Anita Bagwell, the school's director. "I'm just thrilled for him and all that he has before him."

Brown said he noticed a quick transformation in Bartsch during the student's first month in the program. He noted that the Bartsch who first enrolled in Western Sierra was unprofessional, with a penchant for foul language and an often inappropriate sense of humor.

Almost immediately, Brown said, he began to see a drastic change. Bartsch showed up on time, worked hard — he never seemed to want to take breaks or lunches, Brown noted — and was keeping other students on task.

Brown remembered a particular instance about four or five months ago when Bartsch was responsible for taking a whole section of scaffolding and moving it to another side of the house the group was working on. Bartsch had never moved scaffolding before, but figured it out on his own — he even problem-solved to work around elevation issues at the scaffolding's new spot, Brown said.

"He wasn't assigned the lead, but he took the lead and students wanted to follow that lead," Brown said.

That leadership comes naturally to Bartsch, Brown said.

"He knows how to break things down to simple terms, he knows how to correct things that are being done incorrectly," Brown said. "He doesn't ever demean another student to make them feel bad. He says, 'Hey, I like what you're doing, but here's what might work better,' and gives them choices."

Bartsch said he's been able to more easily step into a leadership role among his fellow students because he's been passionate about construction for as long as he can remember.

When he was younger, he used to tag along with his cousin to construction jobs, and has been working side jobs in construction ever since.

He said he loves the work because he's never tasked with the same project from one day to the next.

"You always learn something new," Bartsch said.

He said taking on a paid student supervisor role at Western Sierra has helped him continue to build his leadership skills — and he enjoys teaching others.

"If they want to do construction, I like teaching them what I know so they know it," Bartsch said. "You never know, they could be the next person that's in my spot."

Bagwell said it's been a special experience for the school to be able to employ Bartsch through One Stop's program, and to see him come into his own.

"We ultimately want to see the people we invest in become great community members," Bagwell said. "When they can do that right alongside of you in work you're committed to and passionate about, it's thrilling."

Bartsch said he's most grateful that his time at Western Sierra will give him a diploma as well as certificates in areas like carpentry, electrical work and safety skills.

After graduating from the program, he hopes to work toward his contractor's license, and dreams of one day building his own house. Bartsch said his sons, 2-year-old Miles and 6-month-old Vander, are his motivation for working hard.

He wants "to give them a good life, and all that," he said.

Looking back, Bartsch said he's glad he ended up at Western Sierra. If he had graduated from high school as planned, he said he probably would have taken the first job that came his way instead of pursuing the career he's always wanted.

"Being at this school is a blessing," Bartsch said. "It's getting me further into my future and setting me up for what I need to do."

To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email or call 530-477-4230.