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Students build their skills from the ground up

From blueprints to backhoe, class uses full potential of empty lot

Published: Sunday, March 19, 2017 5:53 p.m. CDT • Updated: Sunday, March 19, 2017 5:55 p.m. CDT

MARION (AP) – Call it a unique classroom experience that demands students not only use their minds, but also their hands.

Since the start of last year, 11 students – nine seniors and two juniors – from Marion High School have been gathering for 2˝ hours each school day to work on the construction of a new home.

Lester James, the school’s building trades instructor, is helping students with the construction process. He said the project began after an open lot was donated by the city to the high school.

“In the spring 2016 semester, the students went from an empty lot to a house shell under a roof,” James said.

Marion Mayor Robert Butler said the course gives students hands-on experience in construction and will place a lot back on the tax roll to generate revenue for both the school district and the city.

“Of course, from time to time, the city does have vacant lots and rather than let them just sit there idly, we’re all in favor for the high school building trade class utilizing the lot,” Butler said. “We view it as a win-win situation.”

But before the students began building, they first had to combine their business and public speaking skills to make a proposition to their school board.

After a unanimous nod from the board, the students began their work.

Over the initial phases of the building project, the students visited the city’s courthouse to complete a property search, created a budget for the vocational project, and completed a blueprint for the home.

“Work began January 2016 with students doing all phases of construction process,” James said. “They operated backhoes, skid-steers, concrete buggies [and] tractors in order to move earth and prepare foundations.”

The students also worked side-by-side with students from John A. Logan College as well as city workers, plumbers, roofers and the local Home Depot.

David Norris, who helped with roofing, said “A student can read about a skill, have a teacher show them a skill, perform a skill themselves, or perform a skill with a professional and get four different learning perspectives,” he said.

Alek Jimenez, a senior who has been enrolled in James’ various vocational courses since his junior year, said he plans to hone his skills as a business student at McKendree University in Lebanon.

“I feel like this has shown me that I don’t want to be doing this for the rest of my life,” he said.

“It’s something that I enjoy [doing], but it’s not something that I would want to make a career out of, but I am happy that I did it and it’s something that I can use even in my own house when I’m older.”

For Isaac Phipps, a MHS senior also enrolled in James’ vocational course, the class builds his confidence for job opportunities down the road and will help prevent him from spending excess money when he is ready to build his own home.

“I think it will definitely open up job opportunities and help me save money on my own house,” he said. “If I wanted to build my own home, I feel like I could do whatever I want with it and it’s something that I could pass on to future generations.

The home will be listed for sale with a local Realtor.

The students plan to start constructing their next home this month, following the board’s approval. The city also plans to donate another lot.

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