Olathe & Southwest Joco

Olathe School District class takes the DIY idea to the max

Nicole Meis, 17, measures and cuts a piece for the construction class project with help from Karla Torres, 17, and Maddie O'Brien, 17.
Nicole Meis, 17, measures and cuts a piece for the construction class project with help from Karla Torres, 17, and Maddie O'Brien, 17. Special to The Olathe News

Hammer? Check. Power tools? Check. A fully constructed classroom? Well, almost.

The Olathe School District’s Construction Trades classes have taken on a unique challenge — building their own workspace. After spending the beginning of the semester on indoor demolition at the West Dennis Support Center, students are looking forward to laying pipes alongside the school district’s plumbers.

“As we’re going, we’re learning what we need to do with our space. We’re tweaking stuff and designing,” said Dave Pfortmiller, who started as the program’s facilitator last year.

They hope to be done fixing up their workshop space, complete with plumbing and electricity, by the end of the school year.

In addition to constructing their classroom, the students are working together to practice their construction skills on sample rooms, such as a bathroom. Those structures will come down at the end of each school year, but the classroom itself will remain intact.

“At this age, they legally can’t, outside of school, run around with all these power tools,” Pfortmiller said.

Previously, the Olathe Advanced Technical Center housed the program, but the space available for working on projects wasn’t ideal. Classes used the parking lot and one of the automotive program’s service bays for construction projects.

“The biggest thing is to have high enough ceilings, so that way we can actually build structures in here,” Pfortmiller said.

The new open workspace will allow students to get more practice applying lessons on electricity, plumbing and other avenues of construction.

“I think it’s incredible — the best project-based learning you could ever ask for,” said Amy Stolz, principal of the technical programs. “To see what this looked like before and what it looks like not: it’s unbelievable.”

Stolz said that being able to apply the math and science skills in a practical way engages students who might not otherwise find these topics interesting.

Students come from all over the district to be part of the district’s vocational programs for three hours a day. They spend the rest of the day at their regular high schools.

“It’s a place where I could go work with my hands and move toward my field of work,” said 17- year-old Josh Musick. “ … I definitely like being able to put what I learn to work.”

As part of the two-year construction program, students earn an OSHA10 certification by the end of their first year.

In their unit studying electricity, they practiced running wires of all different types through walls and conduits and constructing circuit boxes. Training like this helps the students develop skills applicable to both commercial and residential construction.

Other lessons on the books for these classes include rafters, drywall, sheetrock and plumbing. Pfortmiller said that having the hands-on, practical lessons gives his students something they can’t get by just studying in a classroom.

“The biggest thing is problem-solving: How do we get the wire from here to here, plumbing from A to B,” he said.

Field trips and visits from professionals working in the various parts of the construction industry help students see how each lesson is relevant to the work they want to do.

“They enjoy coming in, because it helps with recruiting kids to go work for them when they leave here. The kids really like it where people in the industry are taking them time out to come in and work with them. They’re learning all the tips and tricks of the trade,” Pfortmiller said.

It also allows them choose where they might want to focus future training and certifications so they can jump right into a field that suits them and not waste time. Students also get the opportunity to network and set up internships and summer jobs.

Musick, who attends Olathe East High School, got a summer job with One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning because he met people from the company through this program. He hopes to go on to further construction-focused education after he graduates from high school.

Some students will choose to go on to a four-year college, but “you don’t have to go to college to be successful,” Pfortmiller said.

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