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Pr. George's Vocational Students Near Completion on a House in Clinton

Maryland Newsline
Wednesday, April 27, 2011


CLINTON, Md. - At the end of a road in a sleepy subdivision dotted with manicured lawns and pricey cars, a symphony of power tools cuts through the quiet at a house under construction.


But this is no ordinary house.


The house is a student-built project, a collaboration between the Prince George's County Public Schools and the local business community. It's one of 35 houses and townhouses built and sold in Prince George's County subdivisions since 1981, in a program designed to provide high school students real-world applications of their academic work.


The project aims to teach students a valuable trade while fostering values of teamwork and persistence.


"Hands-on learning is very important," said Anthony Fletcher, a carpentry teacher at Croom Vocational High School, who has helped students build 31 houses in his 35 years at the school. "We have the experience to show them."


With some exceptions, including the roof, this year's 2,600-square-foot, four-bedroom house has been built by students with teacher supervision.


"They teach the basics, what's the safest way to do things," said Eric Barrios, a 17-year-old junior at Croom Vocational High School, who helped make cabinets and install blinds.


A foundation that represents a partnership between the school system and the local business community hires and pays for about 15 licensed contractors to finish off jobs that students are not certified to complete, such as the plumbing, dry wall and flooring, said Eric Lyles, supervisor for the technical academy programs in Prince George's County Schools.


Students in the construction program spend half of the day in academic classes, and the other half of the day in construction-related classes. One day a week, students work at the house in Clinton, said Margy Edsall, construction and development coordinator for Prince George's County Public Schools.


This school year, 122 students from four schools are involved in the project, including Croom, Crossland High School, Suitland High School and Tall Oaks Technical Academy, Edsall said.


Montgomery County has a similar program, Edsall said.


Juniors or seniors are selected into the Prince George's program through an application process that requires a minimum GPA of 2.0 and the successful completion of the high school assessments in English, algebra and biology, Edsall said.


Building a house from start to finish gives students an edge over other vocational trade students, because it gives them real-world experience, Lyles said.


After finishing the house project, some students go on to get jobs at places like PEPCO, while others take classes at area community colleges, he said. All students are urged to get apprenticeships with local unions, he said.


Many tout the benefits of the program.


"The hands-on and classroom education that the program provides has been a great tool for introducing Prince George's County School students to the opportunities for advancement, variety of possible careers, earning potential, and benefits that exist with a career in construction," said Debra A. Schoonmaker, president and chief executive officer of the Associated Builders and Contractors of Metro Washington.


Prince George's County School Board member Henry P. Armwood Jr. also supports the student-built house project. He said career and technology education should be expanded so that every student in the county has access to programs if they would like to learn a trade.


"We have to make investments in our students' futures," Armwood said. "All students should be exposed to a trade and skill; they may learn something that will stick with them."


Barrios said what he learned has given him a gift of self-reliance when it comes to construction projects.


“It’s a good thing to learn. … I will use these skills later to improve my house,” he said.


The school system offers a variety of career and technology education programs, including in the construction trades, Edsall said. Students can opt to study one of five different construction trades, including carpentry, electrical, heating and air conditioning, masonry and plumbing, she said.


The school system has a partnership with the Associated Builders and Contractors of Metro Washington that helps students take on apprenticeships or join local unions to learn more.


"It’s not as easy as it looks,” Barrios said.


The Clinton house which will be completed May 5 - is on the market for $339,900. Proceeds from the sale of the house are used as seed money for the next year's construction project, Edsall said.


The house, at 8207 Student Drive in Clinton. will be dedicated May 6 at 11:30 a.m.

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