Nailed it! High school senior project builds futures

From beginning to end, a Neah-Kah-Nie High School (NKNHS) project nailed some important long-lasting and real-life benefits across the board.

By Ann Powers

With the help of several classmates, NKNHS Construction Trades students Luis Perez Arellano and Jessica Ness recently completed their senior project – an emergency supplies shed and shelter for the Tillamook County Public Works Department (PWD).

Construction Trades students, their teacher and county officials, on-site where the kids assembled an emergency supplies shed/shelter for the Tillamook County Public Works Department. From left: Kenady Partosan, Estephania Jimenez, the Construction Trades instructor Dan Gernert, Jessica Ness, TCPWD Director Liane Welch, Solid Waste Program Manager David McCall, Luis Perez Arellano, John May, Joe Pickel and Bailey Branscum.

The 10-by-14-foot structure, located near the PWD office in Tillamook, promotes Career and Technical Education (CTE) opportunities, enhances Tillamook and Umatilla Counties emergency preparedness, scores points for gender equality and fuels workforce readiness.

Career and Technical Education (CTE)
CTE programs integrate academics with technical skill development. Arellano and Ness earn CTE credits, and lifelong skills, in Dan Gernert’s Construction Trades class at the high school.

Tillamook PWD officials contacted Gernert saying the department would furnish the building supplies for the shed, if students wanted to construct it. Arellano and Ness took it on as their senior project – with the fruits of their labor yielding much more than they expected.

Arellano is thinking about enrolling at Northwestern College of Construction following high school graduation. The Manzanita teen said he’s known since middle school his career calling was construction.

With the help of a few classmates, Neah-Kah-Nie High School student Luis Perez Arellano (front) begins assembling his senior project – an emergency supplies shed and shelter for the Tillamook County Public Works Department. Citizen photo/Ann Powers

“I’ve been wanting to do it ever since I started a woodshop class in eighth grade,” he recalled. “I had zero experience and ended up building a really cool toolbox for my dad’s birthday.”

Which led to building his own future. Arellano emphasized that CTE courses have been extremely beneficial in applying what he learns in the classroom to the outside world.

“I really like hands-on learning,” he explained. “It helps me learn a lot better than just being told something. For example, math is really important and not just for calculating a measurement. It can also help with problem solving.”

Emergency Preparedness
The supplies shed doubles as a shelter for disaster relief officials from Umatilla County, according to PWD Director Liane Welch. It’s part of an inter-governmental emergency management contract with the eastern Oregon county. If disaster strikes in Tillamook County, Umatilla emergency personnel fly in to help, and vice versa.

“If I’m hurt, I’m not going to be able to respond,” said Welch. “(Umatilla officials) get transported here via helicopter or airplane and they are able to respond and fill that void of leadership. And we do the same for them.”

The shed accommodates up to four people. It holds two weeks of supplies including camping equipment, non-perishable food, water, sleeping bags, cots and a shower.

“Instead of buying a shed, why not get the kids involved?” Welch noted. “We paid for the materials, the kids get an educational opportunity and CTE credits. I just think it’s a really good partnership between the public, the school system and emergency management.”

NKNHS Principal Heidi Buckmaster applauds the real-world teaching approach.

“I love that they’re getting hands-on experience and it’s for a good cause,” she said. “Anytime they’re able to translate their skills from the classroom to the field, it enriches the learning experience.”

NKNHS Construction Trades instructor, Dan Gernert, guides Luis Perez Arellano and Jessica Ness through the assembling of their senior project. Citizen photo/Ann Powers

Paul Erlebach, NKN School District superintendent, agrees and hopes to expand CTE classes and what he calls “life-changing experiences” for students.

“I would like to see an early childhood teacher program,” he said. “We are investigating the possibility of developing that program so we can grow our own teachers.”

Gender Equality
Ness, of Nehalem, has her sights set on becoming a nurse. However, she is both thrilled and surprised to have discovered her knack for building things. She first enrolled in the Construction Trades program last year.

“I thought about it for a while and thought it was something that just guys did,” she said. “But, I got started in it and it’s been a lot of fun and I really enjoy doing it. It’s a real-life skill that doesn’t just stay in the classroom and something we can take with us after we graduate.”

Ness said she might use her newfound abilities to build a shed in her own backyard someday, when she advances into full-fledged adulthood.

“Who knows,” she said. “It will come in handy.”

‘Girl power’ undeniably made its majority presence known throughout the project. Out of the seven students helping assemble the shed, three were boys and four were girls.

“Everybody thinks it’s a guy thing,” said Arellano. “But, the girls are doing really well. They get things done.”

Workforce Ready
Educators said not only are the numbers of girls interested in Construction Trades on the upswing – so are the jobs available in the industry.

For the past few years, there has been a surge in construction employment and job openings, according to Fortune Magazine. And data from the American Association of General Contractors shows that 80 percent of construction firms said they expected to expand their payrolls.

The finished product – a Tillamook-Umatilla Counties emergency supplies shed and shelter. Citizen photo/Ann Powers

Gernert said he plans on scheduling meetings between employers and his CTE students – for another real-life experience. Regardless of the career path students choose, Gernert also teaches the values of being a good employee and coworker all the way around.

“I try to stress the importance of basic human interactions with students,” he said. “Area employers have conveyed these are hard to come by these days in young employees. I hope to give students opportunities to practice these skills before starting their working lives. And to gain confidence accepting challenges, in all they will do in their lives.”

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