There’s a lot of pressure on high school students to enter college after high school. Parents, teachers, guidance counselors, friends…they all ask: “Where are you going to college?”
But what if you’re a student who needs something different? What if you’re at your best when your thinking through your hands?
The dilemma of high school students who don’t want to attend traditional college is often ignored. At graduation ceremonies and parties, you hear about the students who are going to college or entering the military. Everyone else? Well, no one seems to mention them. But, there is another option – a career in construction as a skilled tradesperson.
Acceptance into a registered apprenticeship program to become a skilled tradesperson, such as an electrician, plumber or pipefitter, allows an ambitious young person to combine their learned knowledge with practical skills involving their hands. Unfortunately, careers in construction aren’t on the radar of many high school students.
Luckily, Roosevelt High School in south Minneapolis is doing something to change that. Through its Auto and Construction Program, Roosevelt High School offers students the opportunity to learn about automotive repair, welding, and now, construction.
As the only high school in the Minneapolis school district to offer classes in construction, Roosevelt gives its students the opportunity to learn real-world skills, which can give them a leg up in pursuing a career in one of 30 construction trades, from a career as an electrician to bricklaying.
Catherine Ludowese, a teacher at Roosevelt High School leads the new construction program, which was launched in September 2018.
“Roosevelt’s program offers three different pathways for our students,” Ludowese says. “We have an automotive services pathway, an auto body repair pathway, and a now, a construction and welding pathway.”
“The goal of the program is to prepare students for careers that may not involve college,” says Ludowese, “such as an apprenticeship program in one of the skilled trades, or an immediate start in the workplace after they graduate from high school.”
In this first year of the construction trades program, Ludowese offered five classes in Construction 1, where she taught the students about basic safety, measurements, and assembly, and gave them experience working with tools, such as power saws. This spring she teaching three classes in Construction 1 and offering two classes in Construction 2 for students continuing with the construction track. Next school year, she hopes to offer more advanced construction classes (Construction 3 and 4) for students who desire to continue pursuing their learning of construction.
“We know that we’re filling a big need with these classes,” says Ludowese. “In our first semester alone, 91 students enrolled in our five Construction 1 classes. We’ve been amazed with the level of interest that our students have shown so far.”
While Ludowese’s class teaches skills that are applicable to a work environment, it also teaches skills that are applicable to student lives, and gets them excited about building and creating.
“Whether a student pursues a career in construction or not, they’re gaining valuable experience,” Ludowese adds. “For example, some of our students may never have lifted a hammer before. We show them how to do it right. And that’s a skill they can use the rest of their lives.”
In their first project for Construction 1, the students worked on making a giant jenga game, where they learned how to measure and cut wood. For their second project, the students created a cornhole game (bean bag toss), which allowed them to learn how to properly drill holes and yes, even sew the beanbags. For their last project, the students learned about electricity while learning how to wire an outlet.
“The program is designed to let the students have fun,” Ludowese says, “by teaching them how to make games and showing them how the skills they are learning apply to real life.”
Although Ludowese’s class is a lot of fun, she says: “There’s no easy ‘A’ here. The class has high standards that push the students to go outside of their experience and learn new valuable and applicable skills.”
As for the future, Ludowese says that she wants to get more funding so that she can take her students to visit active construction sites where they can talk to real construction workers. She also would like to expand the diversity in her classes, to attract more female students and students of color into the construction trades.
“There is a huge opportunity for women and for people of color in Minnesota’s construction industry,” Ludowese says. “We want to encourage and support these students to get involved, and help them explore careers in construction.”
Maybe, for example, Ludowese notes, “that the girls in our school will feel more confident about signing up for these classes after they see that they’re being taught by a female instructor.” Overall, Ludowese is on a mission to give those students who don’t fit the typical expectations of a four year college a different opportunity.
“We want to encourage students to foster their skills,” she says, “and show them how many opportunities come from the development of their expertise.”
Roosevelt is one of a growing number of high schools throughout Minnesota offering construction classes for students preparing for apprenticeship programs in construction. These schools, known as Construction Apprenticeship Preparation (CAP) schools, are supported and encouraged by Minnesota’s building trades, construction companies and others that have teamed up under the Construction Career Pathways (ConstructionCareers.org) umbrella to encourage high school students throughout the state to consider construction as a career choice.
At the end of the day, Ludowese sees the construction trades courses at Roosevelt as an opportunity to prepare her students to approach life head-on. Through her class, she wants her students to “use their hands, enjoy their learning, feel safe, feel that they belong, and most importantly, feel that they are a better person through their effort and valuable contributions to their developing work.”
Interested in a career in construction? Visit https://constructioncareers.org for more information.