By Jenny Neyman
A new building trades class at Skyview High School is off to great start, even better than instructor Tim Wight was hoping. Maybe, a little too good.
His six students have jumped right into their first project, building a shed, and seem ready, willing and enthusiastic to learn anything he can teach them, he said. At this rate, the class will be ready to move onto their next project in no time, and their next, and that’s where Wight foresees a problem.
He’s running out of work for them to do.
The building trades class is meant to provide high school students with an opportunity for hands-on, real-world construction skills training. The hands-on part is easy. The students are eager to put their hands to work, and as a home builder in the area for the last eight years, Wight has plenty of knowledge in construction to share with them.
The real-world portion is proving a little trickier. It isn’t a traditional shop class, where the school budgets a certain amount of money for wood and other raw materials so everybody in the class can make a flower planter or cutting board or what not. The students are meant to do real projects for real people in a real, construction-site environment.
So what Wight really needs is work.
“The goal is to reach out to the community, go to people’s homes and remodel, build, insulate, wire, plumb, Sheetrock, mud, texture, paint. If anyone has a project they’d like done, please let me know,” Wight said.
A home or business owner needs to provide materials for the students to work with, help with gas money for transporting the students and, as the weather turns colder, Wight is particularly looking for indoors projects the students can do.
“Right now I’m doing everything I can to keep kids busy for a semester, and I want to grow the program. I’ve got 20 or so kids that want to be involved, I just don’t have enough work for them. So I’m kind of struggling to keep my kids warm and working.”
The warm part is already becoming a challenge. Wight started the class building a shed outside Skyview’s shop area. He’s hoping to have the students finish that project and add on to Skyview’s ski shack before the weather turns irrevocably to winter.
On Thursday, the drizzly, windy, cold afternoon gave an air of immediacy to that plan. Students donned hooded sweatshirts and kept working, periodically taking chunks of wood needing to be measured and marked inside the shop area to warm up. But the shop has another class scheduled during the same time block, so the building trades program is left out in the cold. Wight hopes that doesn’t affect students’ enthusiasm for learning construction.
“I don’t want them to lose their interest just because it’s cold,” he said. “It’s almost tragic, I guess. Like Mary (Doremire, a senior in the class) has a real aptitude and desire to head in that direction, and her family are contractors. But if it gets too cold, I wouldn’t blame her at all for saying, ‘I’m smarter than this. I’m finding something inside.’”
Part of Wight’s goal for the class is to teach general skills that can be used in students’ lives, whatever they do with them. He’d like to bring in a math teacher and expound on concepts like using the Pythagorean theorem and basic algebra in real-world construction applications, as well as general skills like following directions, working safely, efficiently and responsibly, and working as a team. But his ultimate goal is to help interested students get started in the construction field.
“Definitely, at the very least, I want to get our kids exposed to the industry, and right now they’re exposed and fired up about it and they’re willing to learn,” Wight said. “I would like to have a chance for them to build and head in that direction. I know that our oil companies, for one, are just hollering for qualified people. We just don’t have a real large pool to pick from at this point, at least not locally.”
The six students taking the class come from varying backgrounds with construction, some with family members in the field, but for most, this is their first time operating a saw, much less framing a structure.
“Raquel (Derry, a senior in the class) told me at the beginning of class she knows how to use the tape, and that’s it, but they’re all willing to work, even if there’s not a whole lot of background,” Wight said.
Derry said she signed up for the class at the urging of her friend, Doremire.
“I talked her into it,” Doremire said.
“She told me to, pretty much,” Derry said.
But building trades is a field in which Derry is interested, especially as it relates to interior design, she said. Of course, she’s also interested in anthropology, so there’s no saying at this point how heavily construction will figure into her future.
“We’re indecisive seniors, we’re not sure,” Doremire said.
Doremire’s family works in construction, which is how she got interested in the class. As a senior, she didn’t need to be at school in the afternoon when the class is offered, but decided to take it anyway.
“It’s a hands-on kind of thing. I want to be comfortable using tools and to be able to build stuff,” she said.
“We pretty much operate everything, which is good because we learn how to do it,” Derry added. “It’s not watching (Wight) just do something.”
Wight said that’s part of the learning process, and it’s encouraging that the students are willing to try.
“It’s hands-on. I push them a little bit, but I don’t push them out of their comfort zone too far,” he said. “I don’t want them to get hurt, obviously. But they’re great. They’re willing to try just about anything. Some were a little afraid to use the air nailer, but now I should probably focus a little bit more on how to use the hammer. They haven’t really figured that one out yet.”
In the future, Wight would like the building trades students to build an actual house in Soldotna. He’s gotten support from local contractors and the Kenai Peninsula Builders Association, he said, so trained professionals can come in and help with areas with which Wight may not be familiar, like electrical and plumbing. The school’s principal, Randy Neill, and the school district’s vocational education director, Dan Bohrnsen, are behind the program, as well, Wight said.
“It’s really a chance for me to make something happen here. I’ve got an incredible amount of support from Randy Neill. He said, ‘Tim, do whatever you want to do, I’ll support you.’ And Dan Bohrnsen said he’s ready to support whatever I get off the ground,” he said.
“And the kids are fantastic. I like to say they put 100 percent forth every day, but they are kids. It’s probably about 90 percent, but they never complain and they always do what I ask of them. They miscut a few things every now and again, but we’re able to salvage most of our materials. I’m really proud of them. I really wish I could get another six students in there.”
Anyone interested in suggesting a project for the building trades class can contact Wight by calling Skyview High School at 260-2300 and leaving a message for him.