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A new foundation: Resurrected class showing success

Published: Friday, Nov. 30, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Nov. 30, 2012 1:59 p.m. CDT
(Alex T. Paschal/
Dixon High School seniors Jacob Tavitas (left) and Brandon Bass work on a cold storage building at the district's administration office Wednesday afternoon. The school brought back the building trades class 3 years ago. Before that, students spent about 40 minutes each school day on the bus to and from the Whiteside Area Career Center class in Sterling.
(Alex T. Paschal/
The nine seniors and two juniors in the Dixon High School building trades class add weather barrier Wednesday morning to a cold storage building at the district administration offices. They plan to get the roof on before winter break.

DIXON – Dixon senior Roy Hummel gets a sense of pride when he drives by a shed at Jefferson School.

To Hummel, that’s not just any shed.

He and his classmates in the building and trades class at Dixon High School built it.

“It’s nice knowing you built something and it’s helping the community,” said Hummel, who is in his second year of the program.

The pounding of hammers could be heard throughout the district administration office Tuesday, indicating the class taught by Ryan Zimmerman was at it again.

This time, a class of nine seniors and two juniors is building a cold storage unit for the district office. So far, they have four standing walls and a goal to put a roof on the structure before winter break.

In 3 years, the class has built three tool sheds, along with storage units at Jefferson and Lincoln schools. Before the class was created, students were bused to the Whiteside Area Career Center in Sterling for a building and trades program.

The storage unit is the group’s biggest undertaking of the school year.

“Students are gaining a hands-on experience they can’t get from a textbook,” Zimmerman said. “This is the same type of work they would get on a regular job site. My feeling is they can learn more out here from doing it, especially for some of those students looking for making this a career after they graduate.”

Zimmerman lets his students do it all, from hammering and sawing to measuring, keeping a watchful eye on their every move, quick to interject with advice or halt them if they are doing anything wrong. They work every school day afternoon, unless it rains, snows or gets below 32 degrees.

“Everything we’re learning is something we’ll use throughout life, whether we go into the field or work on our own houses,” said Jared Frey, another senior in his second year of the program. He plans to work for his stepfather’s contracting business for his career.

“Sometimes the book isn’t exactly like it is when you get out here,” said senior Brandon Bass, who plans to study architecture after high school. “It’s nice to get out of the building and get that hands-on experience.”

Dixon had its own program about two decades ago. Before it was resurrected, Superintendent Michael Juenger said, students spent about 40 minutes each school day on the bus to and from the career center’s class in Sterling. Now, students are minutes from the project site.

The high school was able to provide the program without adding staff, since Zimmerman had the credentials to teach the class.

“They’re gaining a whole school hour that was lost in travel time,” Juenger said.

Dixon still has two busloads of students coming to and going from the career center, but the class has allowed the district to save about $5,000 in tuition.

“We pay them a tuition for the students that go over there,” Juenger said. “Still, it’s not about the savings, as much as the educational opportunity we’re able to provide right here.”

With the housing market unstable, the class has constructed buildings the district would otherwise have had to contract out or use their own maintenance staff to build.

“That’s been an unintended consequence that’s been a benefit to the district,” Juenger said, indicating the class could build houses when the market grows stronger.

Since its inception, Zimmerman said, class sizes have grown. Hummel, Fry and Bass said its their favorite class.

“I think more classes in school should be like this one,” Hummel said. “Something where you can get outside of the building and learn hands-on.”

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