By Eliza Partika
Throughout the month of July, students at Roosevelt and Wilson middle schools have been receiving training in construction, welding and electrical trades as a way of introducing the professions to students who may not consider skilled trades as an option after high school graduation.
Groups of 16 to 28 kids built their own toolboxes and welded their own robot clocks at Roosevelt Middle School under the supervision and guidance of teachers from Glendale High School’s Construction Academy and Harbor Freight Tools For Schools.
“Students today, when they go to school, don’t have the opportunities that they used to have to explore different paths,” said David Lefkowith, a consultant for Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, a program of The Smidt Foundation, which was established by Harbor Freight Tools owner and founder Eric Smidt. “I’m not criticizing this, but there’s a real emphasis on test scores and on academic subjects, but that’s not right for every kid. And there are certain kids who are doing better learning with their hands and their eyes than they do sitting and listening. The whole objective is to give these kids a chance to explore what could be a passion of theirs.”
Harbor Freight Tools For Schools has funded programs for middle school and high school students in six different locations throughout Los Angeles.
Skilled trades can make for an engaging pastime while also providing children with skills they can use in adulthood, Jim Campbell said, a teacher at the Construction Academy.
“When they go and buy their house or business, and they have a building, they have an idea how to do a lot of what’s going on and can do it themselves, or can have somebody do it for them,” he said. “People that are not good at math become very good at math, and they get to say they made something with their hands.”
Lefkowith emphasized how much student engagement increases when they are doing something with their hands and making something that is their own.
“We were warned kids won’t have the stamina to do that,” he said. “We were up there yesterday, those kids are doing it, they’re kicking some butt. There hasn’t been one kid dropping out.”
Many of the students participating, boys and girls, found building and welding was not only something they could consider as a career, but could also provide a sense of accomplishment and quality time with friends.
“It feels good to know how to put things together; [it] can be hard sometimes,” said Daniella Salcedo, an 8th-grader at Roosevelt Middle School. “It’s exhausting. It’s really good. It’s fun, but at the same time takes a lot of time and energy, making the things that you want to [make].”
Wyatt Wilson, also an 8th-grader at Roosevelt, added: “You got to build things with your friends and just chill on top [of that].”
For Roosevelt Principal Perla Chavez, the students’ engagement levels are a sign that they are applying what they learn and increasing their exposure to career pathways in construction that they can continue through electives with Glendale High School’s Construction Academy.
“They anticipated coming to a math class, and they leave with a lamp and leave with a toolbox and leave with that knowledge that they can now do something,” Chavez said. “So I think this is really important for them. And I wish more of our students have that experience, that they can apply math into the real world so that they understand how valuable it is, and then take it to the next step.”
Exposure to construction at the 8th-grade level, said Chavez, will give students the opportunity to pursue a three-year program with Glendale Construction Academy that guarantees a credential to be an electrician, or welder, among other skilled tradesperson.
“I have a feeling that some of our students who had never thought about going into construction or into that program will be looking at it. And that’s what’s so amazing,” she said.
Skilled tradespersons in Los Angeles are aging out and companies can’t find enough workers to replace them, leaving job openings and labor shortages in within the industry throughout the county, according to Belen Vargas, senior director of Los Angeles County Programs.
“This is not only about student exposure, but the dire need in the Los Angeles economy,” she said. “These are professions the community needs to build things. We need to expose our young students at a pivotal age when they are trying to figure out what their passion is [and] where they can learn some of these skills.”
First published in the July 29 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.