One of the main goals of the Centralia High School construction class is to ensure its students are ready for college or careers. 

As part of one of only three high school programs in the state, the students each year must tackle a new project, and many times it’s building a house.

“For a high school this size to have a program like this and support it, it’s unique,” Mitchell Smith, the teacher of the class, said at the job site on Wednesday morning on Mayberry Road.

In the 26 years of the career and technical education program, the students have constructed 18 houses and various other projects. 

The class starts from scratch, according to Smith. The first two weeks are focused on safety, reading plans and learning how to measure. After that, the class “hits the job site running,” Smith, the creator of the program, said. 

“We try to do it all in a school year so when we walk away from the project it’s done,” Smith said. “It’s turn-key ready.”

The students, many of whom are beginners, are responsible this year for building a southern-style home from the foundation up. They do practically everything except for the electrical and plumbing work. 

“I’ve been doing it 26 years, and it’s still cool just for me to get a group of kids at the beginning of the year that really have no experience and build a house with them,” Mitchell said. “We’ve built 18 houses and yet it still amazes me that we can do that.”

After learning the skills, many of the students later funnel into the trade, Smith said.

“We’ve had a really good amount of people that go from this program into the trades,” Smith said. “Right now the trades are just really in need of good people. And the kids can make a really good livable wage.”

Just two years out of high school, a graduate of the program is already making $33 an hour with full benefits, Smith said. 

James Bowers, CTE director for the district, said 66 percent of the workforce has nothing to do with a bachelor’s degree. Those jobs are focused on career and technical education which used to be referred to as vocational education. 

“It’s really important that we understand that the workforce is built upon labor,” he said. 

The program helps students get into a career quicker if the student is focused, or it also helps them be more prepared for college if they decide to study the trade.

Two students at the site on Wednesday had no real knowledge of what it takes to build a house prior to the class. But now, having been a part of the program, they both intend to enter into the trade.

Howie Griffith now wants to get into construction management. He plans to go to Centralia College for two years, and then switch over to Washington State University to get his bachelor’s degree in construction management.

“It’s taught us how to build a house mostly, but it’s also taught teamwork,” Griffith said, adding a number of other skills to the list. “It’s really fun and it teaches you a lot of stuff.” 

For Derek Baumel, another student in the construction class, his plan is to enter into an apprenticeship for carpentry afterward. 

“It’s teaching me the basic skills on how to do it and giving me a head start on it,” he said. 

Future homeowner Tim Grey said he reached out to the program after he learned about it from a friend. As a retired school teacher, he said it sounded like a great opportunity for the kids.

“Strictly from the perspective of I’m having a house built for myself, if you take that perspective you can find criticisms. It takes a long time, the kids are not professionals so you have be with them, observe them and encourage them,” Grey said. “But I got to tell you what I like about it best, I get to work with the kids. In my opinion observing from the outside, I can see the kids are learning specific skills.” 

In order to be selected as a project for the construction class, Mitchell said the person inquiring has to finance the project, they must have land, and also should have building plans. Another important thing is time. The project typically spans the entire school year.

Grey so far couldn’t be happier with the results. He is also happy to make the required contribution to the program so the class can attend an annual competition. 

“I’ve had experience with professional builders and some of them that I’ve encountered are more careless and less conscientious than the kids are,” Grey said. “I am very excited about this.” 

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