Like several of the Pocahontas County High School Career and Technical Education [CTE] classes, the carpentry department was operating as a simulated workplace long before the official name came along.
“We’ve all been doing it, they just gave it a new name,” carpentry teacher Duane Gibson said.
As far as he sees it, carpentry is much more than a simulated workplace. It’s a bonafide workplace. The students are constantly taking on new projects – whether in the carpentry shop or out in the field.
The students take charge and designate a site coordinator and then get to work on the task at hand.
“The simulated workplace – this isn’t simulated,” Gibson said. “This is it. That’s the way I see it. Granted, my crew is a lot larger than what normal construction crews would be. There’s kids that will watch somebody else work for awhile and then they swap off.”
Off-campus work sites are nothing new to Gibson’s students, either. He began taking students out into the county in the late 90s when he first joined the staff at PCHS.
“I started taking students out doing projects probably the second year I taught,” he said. “There’s a picnic shelter as part of the East Cass mitigation project, and we built it. That was the first project we did off-campus. We’ve done odds and ends projects, also.”
For a year-and-a-half, the class worked at building a house for PCHS English teacher Stephanie Poppe – a real learning experience for the students. It began as a dog kennel and turned into a house for Poppe.
“That was a good job,” Gibson said. “It was lengthy because you get to work only two hours a day. I started out – at her place – with a crew of eight kids in the class at that time and then the next semester, I had sixteen and the next semester I had sixteen, and now I’ve got eighteen. That was like a year-and-a-half project.”
This year, with the change from block schedule to a seven period day, the class is limited to the time it can spend in the field, but that doesn’t stop the crew from finding jobs.
It recently put finishing touches on a garage for Mark Goodworth at his home near Marlinton. The job site is only a few miles from Gibson’s home, so he was able to store the tool trailer instead of taking it back to the high school each day.
Goodworth heard about the carpentry class when he was at Glades discussing supplies for the project. Instead of taking on the job himself with a friend, he chose to contact Gibson and is excited to see the students’ work come to life at his own property.
“I believe in what they are doing because I went to a vocational school in high school, so I thought it was great,” Goodworth said. “I’d put them up against any contractor. Their work ethic is good. What impressed me probably the most is the measurements. The way they do it, it’s not off at all. When they built the back part, they didn’t measure, build it, set it up and test it. They measured, built it all on the ground, stood it up and it was perfect.”
The project was delayed by snow days, but Goodworth said the time frame didn’t matter as much as seeing the students get real life experience for the future.
“They only get to work two hours a day, but they do such a great job,” he said. “I love the idea.”
On days the class isn’t able to go out into the field, there are plenty of projects in the shop they can work on – including the shop itself.
“We got a $20,000 grant this year for cabinetry,” Gibson said. “My shop – it was a disaster. It looked like something exploded. We built a storage building outside between my garage door and [Scott] Garber’s door. We got a bunch of cantileaver racks to put in it and moved a lot of stuff out of the shop which gave us a lot more space. We’re starting to get more organized, but that’s a work in progress, forever. Always will be.”
Now with the extra space in the shop, the students are able to continue to fill orders, including a book nook for the Forest Service office in Marlinton and mobile libraries for the Seneca Woodlands Woman’s Club.
“We just did a book nook for the forest service in Marlinton,” Gibson said. “Jeremiah Grimes is pretty much the one who took charge of that. I said, ‘here do this. Design this and come up with something.’ I’d never built one before, either. He did one, and it looked great. They wanted a barn shape.
“We were working on that and Mali Minter called me and said ‘we’re interested in a mobile library,’” he continued. “And then within probably a week, Sherry [Radcliff] from the board office called and said her church is looking at having a food pantry – take a can, leave a can – kind of thing. So, we always have small projects.”
Watching the students at work is much like being on a work site with a professional crew. Saws and power tools are whirring, measurements are being yelled out and a few friendly razzes are thrown back and forth.
There may be some laughs and jabs, but at the same time there is a respect – for the job and one another.
“Safety is something you’ve got to push,” Gibson said. “There’s times when you can goof around and then there’s times when you need to be serious, and they know the difference.”
Height is an issue the students have to face, and Gibson is the first to admit that he will not make his students do anything he won’t do, so he’s on the roofs with them.
“Some kids are afraid of heights, they just don’t like it,” he said. “I know when we were doing the project at the school, it was pretty high. We had our gear on – safety belts and brace harnesses. Mark [Jordan] went up, worked for a day, came down and said, ‘I don’t like it. I’m not doing it anymore.’ So, other people were like, ‘yeah, it’s my turn.’ I was up there with them. It’s hard to teach things from the ground. You have to be up there with them.
“You can ask any of them – there’s not one thing I would ask one of my students to do that I wouldn’t jump in and help them or do with them,” he continued. “I might do it for a minute and say, ‘okay’s it’s your turn,’ but I won’t ask them to do something I won’t do myself.”
The students have a camaraderie that blurs the lines of social cliques. Differences are put aside to get the job done.
“They might not be the ones they hang out with after school, but on the job site, they’re going to work together,” Gibson said. “That’s the way it is on the job, too. You don’t know who you’re going to work with. You don’t have to hang out with them after work. You just have to work with them for eight hours a day.
“In class, one time, I said ‘everybody write down the most important thing you learned from my class.’ It was a small class, and I had kids writing, ‘I learned how to lay out rafters’ and Harry Fisher wrote, ‘I learned to work with someone I didn’t like.’
“If you’ve learned that at seventeen years old, or maybe eighteen, then you’ve done well.”
The skill level and attention to detail is what led the students to naming their business Right On Construction, LLC. At first, Gibson was not a fan because he thought it wasn’t serious until he heard the class’s explanation for the name.
“They said, ‘Right On Construction – jobs get done because we’re right on,’” Gibson said. “I said, ‘now you’ve got a slogan.’ I like it.”
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org