Innovative Curriculum Prepares Students for Careers

Mon March 14, 2011 - Northeast Edition
Mary Reed

A house crew shoots the lines for the pre-fab foundation.
A house crew shoots the lines for the pre-fab foundation.
A house crew shoots the lines for the pre-fab foundation. Carpenters Local 85 teacher Chuck Peaslee (R) helps a student level a block. Students build a full size foundation for the house inside of an old airplane hanger at the school. Robert Brown shakes hands with a future craftsworker while school principal Matt Laniak looks on smiling. Students work together to move lumber.

At a time when growing concern is being expressed about the lack of industry apprentices, Rochester, N.Y., is leading the way with the foundation of a new school to prepare young people for careers in construction.

In 2007 Robert Brown, a Unions and Businesses United in Construction (UNICON) board member and business manager of the city’s Laborers Local 435, suggested a method to increase real-life experiences within the classroom. The UNICON board, including Executive Director Ken Warner, consulted with School District Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard on this proposal, which was to absorb the city’s Edison School of Applied Technology and create what is now known as the Robert Brown School of Construction and Design.

The foundation of the Robert Brown School came at a particularly opportune time for new recruits, given many construction workers are entering or approaching retirement.

“Currently, jobs in the construction industry are expected to grow by 19 percent through the year 2018, compared to the 11 percent projected for all industries combined,” Warner noted. “Also, the Rochester City School District is embarking on a 12 year $1.3 billion school facilities modernization program with aggressive goals on minority participation, which will result in minority students being connected with good paying careers.”

Based on an anticipated 150 to 200 students per grade, with a full school of 9th to 12th graders, enrollment is expected to total 450 to 800. Students will be accepted from within the Rochester City School District’s 9th to 12th grades and must have at least a 2.0 grade point average and a 95 percent attendance rate or higher.

The curriculum to be offered at the Robert Brown School of Construction and Design is both innovative and challenging, according to the creators.

Every student will be enrolled in an academic course of study that culminates in the acquisition of a New York State Regents diploma with special emphasis placed on college prep, honors level classes and advanced placement study opportunities. Students will be expected to take six units of math and science compared to New York State’s three unit requirement.

“We are also introducing green construction to our students because it is important to the future of the construction industry as it is a way to build houses and commercial buildings with sustainable, renewable, alternate resources. Being familiar with green technology will give our students an edge in a competitive work field,” Warner said.

Students also will be required to take physics in 9th grade, since it introduces them to the conceptual concepts found in construction such as force, electric charge, electric field, and atomic structure, needed to pursue a career in construction, architecture, or engineering.

“The curriculum will also include a math program designed for UNICON to meet the mathematical skills needed to be successful in our ’Get Ready for Life’ program. It is specially designed to focus on the type of math that is essential for the building trades,” said Warner. “It is an elective for 10th graders and will emphasize everything from basic math to trigonometry. Our reasoning for creating this program is to decrease the remedial math skills that students have either forgotten or were not taught how to use, like how to properly measure using a ruler, etc. Obviously, these skills are needed to be successful in the construction industry.”

Study will not be confined to the academic.

“Every student will be involved with genuine hands-on experience working alongside union craft workers building single-family homes in Rochester. In addition to getting invaluable experience in the construction industry the students will be receiving a paycheck for their work,” Warner went on. “The previous House Building Project resulted in the only sale of a single-family home in the city of Rochester at market value in the last three years. This is a point of pride for not only the students but also all the participants who have contributed to the success of this program, including UNICON.”

The House Building Project was founded by Brown in 2008 in partnership with Edison High School and the school district. A nationally recognized project, it provides part-time on-the-job training for construction students, who work under the direction of local union apprenticeship programs.

Although it will not open until fall 2012, the school contributed to Rochester’s Careers in Construction Career Day in October 2010. Featuring more than 40 hands-on displays and numerous pieces of equipment, more than 1,000 young people from the city and Monroe County took part.

“The construction industry is one of the last remaining jobs that cannot be outsourced overseas. It is no longer a field that employs persons who can use a shovel. Today our construction workers are expected to complete more math and more reading comprehension than ever before because employees have to provide value to their employers. It’s not a job, it’s a career,” Warner said.

The venture has the full cooperation of the Rochester City School District (RCSD) and Unions and Businesses United in Construction.

Funding for the new school was obtained from a variety of sources, including the New York State Education Department (NYSED), the state Work Force Development Institute (WFDI), the County of Monroe and UNICON unions and contractors.

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