Students in Christopher Haddad’s classroom at Thomas Edison High School of Technology in Silver Spring, Maryland, have to know things like what PVC stands for — and be able to put that knowledge into practice.
Haddad’s class, Foundations of Building and Construction Technology, is part of the two-year Construction Technology program offered at Edison. The class isn’t just open to Edison students; kids from other Montgomery County high schools can attend Edison for half of the school day to learn the ins-and-outs of different trades.
Students learn “a little bit of everything” construction-related from Haddad, who has years of experience as a construction professional. Once they finish this introductory class, students choose which specialized trade —such as masonry or carpentry — they’d like to pursue over their next three semesters.
All of the program’s students come together with their respective knowledge to work on a project: designing and building a house.
They’re involved in every step of its construction, from drawing up blueprints to installing plumbing and ceiling fans. Since the program’s began, in 1972, students have built 41 “Young American” homes with help and supervision from their Edison instructors and the Construction Trades Foundation, a local nonprofit that provides students with materials and handles the sale of each home. Profits from each sale go toward the next student-built house.
Last week, students and educators slid a ceremonial brick into Young American 41 during a cornerstone ceremony, officially completing its construction.
The home doesn’t look like what someone skeptical of power tool-wielding teens might expect: it’s a nearly 3,000-square-foot red-brick colonial, with 9-foot ceilings, a spacious front porch and a balcony. The house is listed for $549,000.
After the final brick was placed, students led family members and guests through the house to show off their handiwork.
“I built this,” beamed Joshua Sabater, a plumbing student as he stood in the master bedroom’s bathtub. Sabater is a senior at Springbrook High School who loves poetry and the spoken word. His two older siblings are graduates of the Edison program, too.
“My parents from the beginning wanted us to all learn a trade,” he said. “They were like, ‘learn a trade so you can follow your art career and do whatever you want, but have something to fall back on.’ ”
Sabater says he grew to love plumbing for the same reasons he loves art — it makes him feel in control.
“I remember coming [to Edison] and saying, ‘Plumbing, me?’ That first week I hated it,” he said. “But with this house… I can walk around this house and show you, that was difficult, that was easy. I can show you, and that speaks to my work.”
Sabater will graduate from Edison this year with half of the credits he needs for a Master Plumber Certification. He’s thinking about joining a construction contractor as a plumber, and getting that certification from Montgomery College.
Many students take advantage of the college credits they accrue for free at Edison. Natalie Mogrovejo, 18, is finishing up a degree at Montgomery College, where she was able to use two semesters worth of Edison credits. She will start a position as an assistant project manager in June.
Mogrovejo says that Edison’s program gave her the confidence to excel in a field people tend to associate with men. About 10 percent of students graduating from the program this year are female.
“We should be advocating for the Edison program, and telling everyone… that it’s amazing, that more people should do it,” she said. “More students should have this opportunity. And not only that, but female students, too.”
Other local districts have similar programs. Prince George’s County just unveiled its student-built house earlier this month, and Fairfax County offers students trade classes in many of its schools.
Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Jack Smith says that the county has some of highest-performing career programs in the country.
“Our goal as a school system has to be to help every student move toward a good job, a good career path and a lot of opportunities in their lifetime. That’s what we have to prepare students to do, and this is such a perfect example of doing that for students,” Smith said.
This year’s Edison graduates are prepared. They’ll enter the job market with something of substance on their resumes: they built a house.