Midland Public Schools students learn construction skills while serving the community

A hands-on class offered by Midland Public Schools (MPS) is teaching students practical skills while opening up career options for the future.

The Building Trades class takes place at the building site every weekday afternoon. While in class, students get the chance to experience the process of building a house from the ground up and learn the various stages of construction. Participants use a range of tools to build walls, roof beams, and interior components, braving the weather while other MPS students sit in the classroom.

A truck brings the necessary tools and supplies to the building site.Currently, the class is working in collaboration with Reece Endeavor of Midland to build a duplex near Ashman Circle for tenants with disabilities. To offer flexibility to future tenants, one side of the building will be one-bedroom units, while the other side will have two bedrooms. The house features a universal design and is completely barrier-free.

“We know that individuals who have disabilities need to be receiving services and have assistance from organizations that provide that assistance so they can live independently in the community,” says Maureen Donker, Mayor of Midland and executive director at Reece Endeavor.  “So our goal [in designing the building] was to help people to live close together, so down the road, there is the possibility of individuals sharing the same staff [if they so choose].”

“We call it a life skills class — you don't necessarily have to want to be a builder, but just want to know more about home construction, to be able to fix up your own house someday."
Hands-on preparation for future careers

The Building Trades program launched in the early 1970s, resulting from a partnership between MPS and the City of Midland. Since that time, the class has built one house per school year, including two spec houses and multiple projects for Reece Endeavor and the Arc of Midland. Including the current project, Reece Endeavor has commissioned five duplexes for construction through the program.

“It’s a fantastic partnership,” says Kevin Dodick, industrial education teacher at Midland Public Schools, who oversees the course curriculum. “Because of the fact that, of course, our kids are still getting the training, but we're also providing housing for individuals with disabilities. So all in all, it’s a win-win situation.”

MPS has seen the class become more diverse over the years, a potential sign of a changing industry.Each year, approximately five of the two dozen participating students go on to careers in building trades. Some have even started their own construction companies and return to provide feedback to incoming Building Trades classes while recruiting students to hire.

“A lot of builders in town and the Home Builders Association of Midland are very supportive of the program,” says Dodick. “They're always calling me asking if I have anybody that we think could be interested, especially seniors and students looking for summer work.”

With its emphasis on building projects from the ground up and hands-on participation, the Building Trades class provides a solid background for students wanting to go on to additional training in the field.

Participants use a range of tools to build walls, roof beams, and interior components, braving the weather while other MPS students sit in the classroom.“I would guess the biggest asset for our students [going into construction trades] would be having the work ethic that they need to succeed,” says Steven Poole, Ed.D., curriculum specialist for Auxiliary Education at Midland Public Schools. “Learning the trade with a licensed professional gives them a leg-up as well.”  

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, participation in construction careers is growing steadily and showing signs of recovery from pandemic-related disruptions. The National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) reports that the percentage of women in construction trades has gradually increased since 2012.

Students take part in every step of house construction.MPS has seen the class become more diverse over the years, a potential sign of a changing industry. This year’s roster includes four female students among 26 total enrollees. “It’s nice to see that it's starting to become not just a male-dominated class,” says Dodick.

Supporting a well-rounded high school curriculum

The majority of Building Trades students do not go on to construction careers. Instead, they use knowledge from the class to prepare for independence and gain real-world problem-solving experience.

“We call it a life skills class — you don't necessarily have to want to be a builder, but just want to know more about home construction, to be able to fix up your own house someday,” explains Dodick. “We allow it to tie into other subject areas.”

The Building Trades program launched in the early 1970s, resulting from a partnership between MPS and the City of Midland.Students can use Building Trades as a seniors’ fourth year-related math credit or as a visual performing arts credit. Midland Public Schools hopes these options make it easier for learners to fit the class into their schedule. If student interest builds, the school district hopes to expand the class to be offered both in the morning and in the afternoon.

Not needing to look for prospective homeowners has allowed MPS to provide an active building site for the students each year. Class participants learn the community impact of their work and gain a better understanding of local nonprofit initiatives.

“I think the relationship [of Midland Public Schools with Reece Endeavor] is a wonderful relationship,” says Maureen Donker. “The students are great. And when you go there, they work so hard, and it's just really nice to see them. And I think they also not only can take pride in the job that they're doing, but also in that the finished product is going to serve someone that needs some extra help. And they help to make that happen.”

Read more articles by Marta Manning.

A native of Poland, Marta Manning shifted her career path to freelance journalism after working as a research chemist. Her articles have appeared in WebMD.com, the Chemical City Paper, Our Catholic Faith Midland, the NAMI.org national blog, and the Midland Daily News. Marta enjoys drawing and painting, hiking, and supporting local arts and indie music.