South Tahoe High School embraces vocational skills in construction-based class | TahoeDailyTribune.com

South Tahoe High School embraces vocational skills in construction-based class

Maggie Mayer
mmayer@tahoedailytribune.com

Class with Nathan Crnich at South Tahoe High School (STHS) looks and sounds like a construction zone.

"They're learning all the steps to build a house, just on a smaller scale," the woodworking teacher said. "I wanted (students) to get some of the ideas of actual construction, where they're really learning something."

Crnich's level two woodworking class started building a shed as a group about six weeks ago; the biggest project they've tackled yet. STHS has had a woodworking program for years, but Crnich said he's focusing on construction-based skills this semester so students can have a well-rounded trade education.

STHS hopes to help compensate for a perceived lack of construction workers in the Tahoe area.

Kathy Preston, a veteran in the Tahoe construction business, said she's noticed a growing lack of motivation in employees, adding it's hard to find workers with the right skills. She and her family have been operating John Preston Construction for nearly three decades.

"(Schools) should have more of those classes for kids that don't know what they want to do," she said. "It helps them know the feeling of completing a job. It's a rewarding feeling to know you built something."

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Preston said even if the students don't go into construction, the skills they're learning are transferable to real life, such as making home repairs that most people wouldn't know how to do.

According to a 1992 study from the National Center for Education Statistics, 97 percent of American students took at least one vocational course, now referred to as Career/Technical Education (CTE), during their high school career. In 2005, this number was 90 percent in the U.S., according to the National Association of Foreign Student Advisors (NAFSA).

STHS boasts a number of CTE programs, which include courses in auto mechanics, sports medicine, culinary arts and digital media, in addition to woodworking.

"Kids are getting hands-on, practical experience," STHS Principal Carline Sinkler said.

Sinkler said many students take a combination of CTE and college-prep courses.

There are 16 students in Cnich's class, who are assigned different tasks during the class period. While some students are on ladders securing the roof, others are measuring panels or working on the door-frame.

"We are learning as we go so we mess up a lot," said sophomore Hannah Trew. "The roof was a triumph, we did that by ourselves."

Trew said she likes knowing she's learning a skill that she can use in a future job setting.

"They're also learning work ethic, peer collaboration and how to work together to accomplish one goal," Crnich said.

About one half of high school students will go to college, according to a 2012 study from the National Education Association. This number is slightly higher in California, with closer to 55 percent of students receiving an associates or bachelor's within six years of finishing high school, according to research from California Competes. Many of the highest paying trade jobs don't require four-year degrees, including positions in construction, plumbing and electrical work.

The Sacramento Bee reported in January a need for 7,000 workers in construction-related fields following the region's housing and commercial boom. Internship programs are being put in place for high school students so they can learn the necessary skills of the industry.

Crnich said building the shed has been slower than he was anticipating, but he's never attempted a large-scale project with an entire class.

"Working with brand new students that don't know the trade — it's been a learning process," he said. "(We) definitely plan on doing it again."

Originally, Crnich planned on selling the shed to someone in the community to pay for the materials, but the STHS athletic department has offered to pay about $4,500, which is roughly the amount it cost to build.

Sinkler said the program is somewhat self-sustaining, because there are opportunities for students to make products that meet a demand.

"What I appreciate is they're also figuring out a way to pay for it," she said. "They've got an entrepreneurial spirit."