Meet the Class of 2020: Edgar Frias – Welding Helps English Learner Graduate With Brighter Future

Edgar Frias
Moreno Valley High School/RCOE Career Technical Education
Moreno Valley USD/Riverside County Office of Education

When Edgar Frias arrived at Moreno Valley High School in the fall of 2017, his placement in the welding program was much more than just a class to fill his schedule. It became his home base at school and the spark that developed into an ironclad bridge to a brighter future.

Riverside County Office of Education Career Technical Education Teacher Adam Weber is the welding teacher assigned to Moreno Valley High School and remembers how Edgar first arrived in his classroom.

“I received a phone call from our counselor who oversees English learner students looking to place a new student,” Weber recalled. “I said, sure, it’s a perfect atmosphere. More than 60% of the students in the program were already bilingual, and already being taught a trade skill. And, we were at the point in time that there was not as much work in the booklets and there was a lot more hands-on.”

Edgar had only arrived from Mexico six months earlier and assumed that he would just look for work. Instead, he started working with a bilingual lab tech, and their partnership grew through using technical language that was beyond the expertise of Google Translate.

“At first, it was difficult just because of the language, and then it got more difficult trying to learn welding,” Edgar said. “But I liked it. Speaking English was more difficult than learning welding.”

Edgar was motivated to learn and quickly earned his first certifications before finishing his first semester. The hands-on technical experience was the chance to bridge the gap between the technical languages of welding, English, and Spanish.

“Welding was the engagement to helping him stay in school, to learn more about English, and to communicate with his peers,” Mr. Weber said. “It helped him feel like school was a place he belonged. He now feels like our classroom is his home—even as he has been working full time.”

During his Zoom sessions with his class during the stay-at-home orders due to the coronavirus, Mr. Weber regularly sees Edgar wearing his construction hat and vest as he takes a break from his construction job to finish his commitment to high school.

Edgar’s schedule during the COVID-19 pandemic is intense. He leaves at 5 a.m. daily for Los Angeles where his construction job is located and returns to Moreno Valley at 5 p.m.

As a senior set to graduate from Moreno Valley High School, Edgar has changed the trajectory of his entire life in less than two years. He is one of top welders in the program and has the goal of becoming a union welder.

“If it wasn’t for Mr. Weber or the welding classes, I’d probably be out there trying to find work instead of graduating. I don’t know what I would be doing with my life,” Edgar said. “The welding class helped me learn English and helped me understand and give me confidence to be better in my classes. Mr. Weber is a very bright, fine teacher, and I have much respect for him.”

After graduation, Edgar is planning to pursue becoming a union welder. The process, like a four-year paid internship, is often described as “earn and learn.”

“With the baby boomer welders retiring, the data shows that there will be a void of 40,000 welders nationally within the next five years,” Mr. Weber said. “With skylines in cities going vertical, every one of those projects are staffed by ironworker unions. There’s still that builder in all of us that engages us all—no matter our culture or our language,” Mr. Weber said.

Edgar has advice for other English learners struggling to find a pathway to their future.

“My advice would be to study and work on English and other classes that can help you with your future,” Edgar said. “Welding is a heavy-duty job, but it’s a job where you don’t have to work under the sun all day.”