The young participants learn the basics of electrical wiring, plumbing, carpentry, and more from builders and contractors who visit each week.
The young participants learn the basics of electrical wiring, plumbing, carpentry, and more from builders and contractors who visit each week.

Middle-school students at Quebec Heights School in Cincinnati, an Ohio public school with no air conditioning and where 90% of students live at or below poverty level, are learning that they have more post grade-school options than a dead-end job. They are discovering this through Construction Clubs, a free, eight-week afterschool program run by local volunteers to introduce students to various aspects of construction. Anne Mitchell, a construction industry advocate at Southwest Ohio Region Workforce Investment Board in charge of middle school outreach, says it is important to show children these skills—and opportunities--at a young age.

“They are middle-school age and are hearing messages about college, college, college, and they start to realize college is not for them,” Mitchell explains. “We are trying to counter that by saying there are great jobs you can get” for those who pay attention in class, especially math and science.

Mitchell, who previously worked for The Drees Company, developed the curriculum about a year ago as a summer program and is now piloting it in two public Cincinnati middle schools as an afterschool option. The Construction Clubs initiative is funded by a grant from the Spirit of Construction Foundation.

Students who join Construction Clubs meet each week for two hours, where they cover a specific construction skill or process. The curriculum includes sessions on site plans, concrete, carpentry, masonry, drywall, electric, plumbing, and paint; local contractors come to the school each week to teach children their specialties. At the end of the eight-week program, students display the structures that they created with their new construction skills.

Bob Myers, resource coordinator for Quebec Heights Family and Children First center, told BUILDER that the volunteers’ patience and time makes all the difference in the program. “They see potential in our children. These are kids that are on-the-edge kids. At first they aren’t sure what to do with attention. Then, all of a sudden, they relax and get engaged,” Myers said.

“We even used power tools last week,” he joked.

Dan Freese, who helps coordinate the program’s volunteers, agrees that those that donate their time make a big impact on the young participants. “There was an 11-year-old girl in program, and I was teaching carpentry,” recounted Freese, who is a board member with Associated Builders and Contractors. “She had never driven a nail before, but at the end of two hours, she said, ‘I can’t wait for these classes to be over with, so I can grow up and build my own house and get out of metropolitan housing.’”

Jessica Porter is an editorial intern for BUILDER.