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Students help to build Westshore high schools

Student hands are helping create the future in the Sooke school district.
Trades Awareness Skills and Knowledge students Brennan McEwan, left, and Jeff Smith are working on the construction of the Royal Bay Secondary School in Colwood. June 2014

Student hands are helping create the future in the Sooke school district.

The two high schools being built in the district — Royal Bay Secondary in Colwood and a new Belmont Secondary on the former Glen Lake Elementary grounds — both have recent graduates and current students on their construction crews.

The schools are due to open in September 2015.

The construction of the two facilities was seen as an ideal time to develop a program that could involve students in various trades while being part of the actual building process, said Mike Huck, who has been named vice-principal of Royal Bay.

Getting the students involved in apprenticeships is also part of the plan, he said, pointing to the Royal Bay crew as an example.

“Right now, we have these kids signed up for apprenticeships and most of them are working throughout the summer, with the eye of working on the school until it’s complete,” Huck said. “In that sense, it’s been a huge success for the school and the kids.”

“With so many subtrades and businesses on the site here, it was easy to get them to agree to take our students.”

He said the school program that started the students on their way began in February, and brings together aspects of other programs that have been going on in the district for a number of years. That includes Trades Awareness Skills and Knowledge, or TASK, which is run in partnership with Camosun College.

TASK was a model for a new trades course, Skills Exploration 10-12, announced in May by Education Minister Peter Fassbender, said Sooke assistant superintendent Dave Betts. In April, the provincial government announced its Skills for Jobs Blueprint aimed at putting more emphasis on training people for trades and various high-demand jobs.

Betts said that the students’ efforts in the trades are going on as the labour dispute between teachers and their employers’ group continues.

“This is fantastic news during what are somewhat distressing times for all of us in the school system,” he said. “So, of course, we’re hoping that there will a resolution to the job action and the strike soon. But here we have students who are working, continuing their education right now on these job sites.”

Betts, who worked as a carpenter before his education career, said he is passionate about what career programs can do for students.

Seven students are employed at Royal Bay in trades like plumbing, carpentry and steel fabrication. Belmont Grade 11 student Jeff Smith and 2014 Belmont graduate Brennan McEwan are working in steel fabrication.

For McEwan, the job is just what he wants, especially the hands-on aspect of being in a trade.

“This is great, out in the sun, being productive,” he said. “I think I could do this as a career. I really enjoy it.”

Smith likes the idea of students working to build a school. “It’s really weird, because usually you’ve got guys in their 20s and 30s and even older than that.”

Like McEwan, he’s attracted to working outside. “I couldn’t see myself working a desk job.”

Students who have qualified as apprentices are being paid.

Huck said the students have a great chance in front of them. “It’s an amazing opportunity for these kids,” he said. “It was an easy sell at school to get kids involved in this program as soon as we told them they would be working on the new [schools]. “The program’s been amazing in terms of getting these kids excited about the future and excited about a career in the trades,” he said. “I think this is just going to grow and grow and grow.”

While the students working at Royal Bay will be too old for high school after the project is complete, there could still be family connections to what they accomplish, Huck said.

“Some of them will have brothers and sisters who go to this school, and hopefully some of them will come back and work with the school in getting other kids involved in apprenticeships.”

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