In a schoolyear that was disrupted by Covid-19 in so many ways, a pilot construction program was a welcome addition to Roswell’s Mountain Park Elementary School in 2020-21.
The class, developed by Construction Program and taught by Program Development Specialist Clint Pruitt in its inaugural year, introduced basic construction concepts and skills to more than 100 5th-grade students.
The program was so successful, Fulton County Schools approved its expansion to grades 2 through 5 for the 2021-22 schoolyear, and hired a dedicated instructor, Scott Selvig, to teach it.
Zach Fields taught at nearby Roswell High School before coming to Construction Ready to serve as Vice President for its K12 programming. Fields’ vision helped bring the new program to fruition and align with Construction Ready’s existing middle and high school programs.
“We had 150 fifth graders who had an opportunity that 10- and 11-year-olds don’t normally have,” said Mountain Park Principal Stacy Perlman, who was recognized in July 2021 with Construction Ready’s Leadership in Education Award. “It was very special, because there were so many things during this [pandemic] schoolyear that we couldn’t do, but we had this brand-new, exciting program that we could hold up and say, ‘But we’re doing this.’ It was something we could all latch onto and feel positive about.”
Pruitt wrote the curriculum, which covers the use of basic hand tools and introduced students to disciplines such as carpentry and woodworking. He came to Mountain Park three days a week during the 2020-21 schoolyear.
“Stacy Perlman is a principal who has really broken the mold for construction education at the elementary level,” Pruitt said. “She took on every obstacle to getting this program into her school, including fighting for it at the district level and rearranging her 5th-graders’ schedule to make it work.”
With Selvig now on board and classes expanded to cover grades 2-5, some 600 students are systematically learning carpentry safety practices and hands-on skills – and having fun while doing so.
“We’re starting with small wood projects at first, getting the tools in kids’ hands and getting them excited about that,” Selvig said. “It applies math, angles, thinking and problem solving skills – those are all things we’re exposing them to. We don’t play with [the tools], we don’t toss them around, but [students] have learned that they are fun and they are useful. They’re thinking they’re real carpenters, acting like adult carpenters and working with real tools. They think it’s fun, but they’re actually learning to use them safely.”
Benefits Beyond the Classroom
Perlman said the classes have broadened the potential for students to learn, as well as to discover new interests.
“We had kids that really were able to apply and demonstrate and be a leader in the construction class when they didn’t have that opportunity in math,” Perlman said. “It was super exciting to see confidence build in some kids who really needed that.
“Kids that really didn’t have any interest in it to start are excited about construction,” she added. “That then spread to parents being really excited about their student finding a new talent or just a new interest and generating ideas for things they can do in the future.”
One parent, Sarah McLay, said the weekly class made a profound impact on her fifth-grade daughter, Ashlyn.
“My husband and I noticed a change,” McLay said. “Every Monday morning she would wake up eager to get to school, because of the construction class. We loved seeing the excitement in her eyes. The lessons that she’s learned are lifelong – she’ll be able to use them as she grows, and she can share them with her friends and with her family.
“Something that she built in class now sits in our kitchen as the center object on the island,” McLay added. “She’s just so proud of it. It’s a reminder of something that she’s capable of doing, and it gives her confidence in herself.”
With the program firmly in place at Mountain Park, Construction Ready is working with the Georgia Department of Education to get the curriculum standards approved and begin offering it to other schools in metro Atlanta and throughout the state.
A big goal, Pruitt said, is to help students “realize that there are career paths in the skilled trades and that they can one day make a great living at it.”
Sarah McLay said the lessons her daughter learned carried over to their home. Ashlyn has embraced hands-on projects as a creative use of her free time.
“We really enjoy hearing Ashlyn holler out in the house, ‘I’m off to build something,’” Sarah McLay said. “A year ago we would not have allowed her to do that. But now … she knows how to safely use these tools and it’s really become a passion for her.”
McLay said Ashlyn’s new pursuit also has fostered stronger family relationships.
“It’s a special time for my husband,” she said. “He’ll go out to join her, and it’s a bonding time that they’ve developed. She now insists on going to Home Depot with my husband, and to Home Depot with her grandfather. Any chance she has to help pick out building supplies or just be part of a project, she’s always up for that.”
Pruitt said stories such as McLay’s have been an encouraging by-product of the program. “To me,” he said, “building relationships through construction is a huge win.”
And of course, whether in or away from the classroom, there’s the satisfaction of creating something with one’s own hands, another benefit the program has brought to students at Mountain Park.
“When I see them enjoy what they’re doing, taking pride in it, they’ll come and say, ‘Do you like this?’” Selvig said. “I’ll say, ‘Well, do you like this?’ and they’ll go, ‘Yeah, this is awesome!’ The satisfaction of that, like any carpenter building a project, is amazing to see in these [students].