Carpentry and construction is a family affair for Camden Smith and Chris Russell.
Smith’s father and his grandfathers are carpenters, while Russell’s grandfather built homes for a living. Both juniors are in their second year of the carpentry and construction pathway at Oakland High School, a program they say will help them later in life.
“It’s been great,” Smith added. “I’ve learned a lot of stuff that I didn’t know before and it’s very hands-on.”
With considerable help from the local Murfreesboro community, Oakland has developed one of the few carpentry and construction programs for high school students in Tennessee.
A 2015 study identified construction as a growing industry in Middle Tennessee, which led the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce to organize a Construction Council led by chairman Paul Lawson of Turner Construction.
Among the council’s 2017 goals was implementation of a work-based learning program, which resulted in generous donations to Oakland’s construction study program.
Through it’s partnership with the Construction Council, the school has received donations including tools, equipment and material supplies from businesses such as Haynes Brothers Lumber Co., S&W Electrical Contractors, Thompson Services, the School of Concrete & Construction Management at MTSU as well as a $525 check from Home Builders Care of Rutherford County, which is the charitable foundation of the Rutherford County Home Builders Association. (A full-list of Construction Council members and businesses is included at the bottom of this story)
“They’ve given a lot to us to help us out,” Oakland construction trades teacher Derry Wells said, referring to the donations from the Construction Council “There’s a lot that wouldn’t happen without that help.
“They see the need from the labor side of things for construction in Rutherford County,” continued Wells, who added, “You can’t go anywhere in Murfreesboro right now without seeing some work going on.”
It originally began 10 years ago, in 2007, as a masonry program before evolving into the current carpentry and construction program in 2012.
Wells, who has 15 years of construction experience, described it as a unique program. He has been the teacher at Oakland for the past five years.
He referenced Lawrence County as having a model program he would like to emulate because they build an entire house every school year. Wells has toured their program and researched how they set it up.
“That’s where we would eventually love to get,” he said.
Oakland is expanding into plumbing and electrician courses beginning next school year, and Wells would like to see his fourth-year seniors have an opportunity to work on local job sites.
Currently it’s a three-year pathway in which students earn a certificate along with their high school diploma.
The first year focuses on the basics and fundamentals of tools and safety. In their second year, students study why houses are structurally designed and built the way they are. Students, like Smith and Russell, also begin to gain hands-on experience with smaller projects.
“You learn about everything and it will help you later on in life,” Russell said.
In the last years of the program, students learn to read simple blueprints, and Wells, who originally planned on teaching math before going into construction, said “they can take off on projects on their own.”
Those projects include building sample sections of houses or a scaled-down sized house that gives them experience in building the proper foundation, framing walls, building trusses, dry walling, siding and roofing the project.
Other students will work on “trying to develop some of the finer carpentry skills” by using their time in class to build furniture, Wells said.
Before graduating they also cover concrete, which includes pour various test sections.
They’ll purposely pour some that are too wet, so the concrete is brittle, or in another case it’s not wet enough and never sets properly.
“I want them to see the negative impact,” Wells explained. “To me, it reinforces the positive of why it’s done right and why it stands stronger.”
Wells added, “While construction is hammers and nails and wood and screwdrivers and all that stuff, there’s a lot of planning and also research and development that goes into it. As much as I can, they’re going to see every aspect of the business.”
Students also are introduced to budgeting and estimating projects along with time management and the importance of teamwork.
“Our soft skills (are) the No. 1 thing,” said Wells, who works with his students on resume building and interviewing skills.
More importantly, he said, he continually stresses the concept of teamwork.
“(Coworkers) are depending on you for safety,” he tells them. “They’re depending on you to do your part of the job and to do your part right.”
Two or three times a year, the Oakland students are given a real world opportunity to frame an entire house for the Rutherford County Habitat for Humanity.
It’s a busy time in which the students work under a real deadline with real world expectations.
This year, Wells has one student who is hoping to go into real estate and another one who hopes to be a general contractor. The three-year program has given them a unique perspective so when they graduate and get their first jobs, they will be able to advance their careers at a faster pace than some of their contemporaries, Wells said.
“I tell my kids all the time you will be able to go out and get a job,” Wells said. “That’s why it’s so important for us to have the help we do from the industry.”
The year-old Construction Council is made of several partners from throughout the local community.
If you are interested in learning more about the work of the Rutherford Works Construction Council, contact Beth Duffield at firstname.lastname@example.org.
KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools