For a group of 12 county high school students, this school year will be a lot more constructive than normal.
That’s because they’ll be spending their mornings not in the classroom, but at a project site in Valmy where they’ll eventually erect a 1,400 sq. ft. house.
A groundbreaking ceremony on Sept. 17 marked the beginning of construction on the sixth annual Door Kewaunee Business and Education Partnership (DKBEP) home construction project. The project is designed to get kids out of the classroom and into the real world, where they’ll work with professionals in the homebuilding business and get some hands-on construction experience.
“[The program’s] about educating kids about careers and giving them needed skills. It’s about critical thinking, problem solving, leadership,” said Tara LeClair, Business and Education Manger for DKBEP, during an opening address at the groundbreaking. “These are soft skills they’ll learn whether they realize it or not.”
This year’s batch of students include Steven Beno and Brandon Vanderlinden from Gibraltar, Adam Bagnall, Nicholas Cater, and Noel Farber from Sevastopol, Josh Braun, Trevor Haack, Spencer Kraemer, Jordan Shefchik, and Connor Wilz from Sturgeon Bay, and Keagan Keddell and Trevor Marin from Southern Door.
Staff representatives from each school showed up to encourage their students and support the project.
“It’s amazing how these kids change from the beginning to the end of the year. The kids that have come through this program have tremendous confidence and a great maturity level,” said Glen VanderVelden, technology education teacher at Southern Door.
According to LeClair, 75 percent of the students who have previously participated in the home construction program have gone on to either find work in the construction industry or continue their education at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC).
Mark Shefchik of Portside Builders in Sturgeon Bay serves as a project advisor for the program, helping to ensure the houses that students build measure up to industry standards. He said he hopes the kids learn skills they can use regardless of the profession they choose but notes his involvement with the program isn’t completely selfless.
“We hope to work with these kids and get future employees from the program, and not just for us,” said Shefchik. “We’re helping to train a person that might come work for you.”
Bill Chaudoir, Executive Director of the Door County Economic Development Corporation, said the homebuilding project is especially important now in the face of shrinking school budgets and a focus on advancing test scores.
“What we have coming out of Madison is an effort to get kids to pass tests and go to college, but there aren’t enough jobs for everyone to just do that,” says Chaudoir. “We’re moving too far away from tech ed and not providing other opportunities and that’s dangerous for the community and the economy.”
For the third year in a row, students will be building a home specifically for a client, but this year’s client presents a bit of an additional challenge. Future homeowner Heidi Teich is a special education teacher at Sevastopol, where three of the students attend school.
“I think they’re going to do a great job,” said Teich as she surveyed the foundation of her future home. “My biggest worry is they’re going to want to know the interior finishes, and I just don’t know what I want right now.”
Teich, who just sold her former home in Shawano, has waited three years to start building on her plot of land in Valmy and said the timing just happened to be right to get involved in the home construction program. At the groundbreaking, she provided each of the student builders with a giant bag of snacks and sport drinks to get their energy up.
“I was told that on previous projects the family would bake for them every day,” said Teich. “I can’t bake every day, but I figured I’d start them off with a few goodies.”
The students, who have already been on-site for a week, were shy when asked for comment, but before the groundbreaking Keagan Keddell of Southern Door said they were extremely grateful to everyone who worked to put the program together.
“We know you guys are giving us a lot of opportunity, and we hope we can make this as big an opportunity as possible,” said Keddell.