Students get hands-on construction lessons

Chugiak High School sophomore Jesse Peterson cuts a piece of wood for an after-school material science class project Thursday, April 11, 2013 in Eagle River, Alaska. High school students from Chugiak and Eagle River are currently building three sheds at Gruening Middle School. (AP Photo/Chugiak-Eagle River Star, Mike Nesper)

EAGLE RIVER (AP) — How many people can say they know how to safely operate an electric saw? How about install shingles? Or build a shed?

A handful of Chugiak and Eagle River high-schoolers can.

A combined 16 students from both area high schools are currently participating in the first year of an after-school material science class started by Gruening Middle School teacher Gary Martin.

The eight-week course teaches students a variety of construction skills, like framing, roofing and how to use power tools.

“It’s working with materials,” Martin said.

Martin’s goal is to have his students — 75 percent of whom he previously taught as middle-schoolers — leave the class with the ability to fix their own homes.

“They can get a basis of construction,” he said.

It also provides hands-on education, Martin said.

That’s one aspect that attracted Chugiak sophomore Slayton Hargraves to the program.

“It’s not just a class, you actually do stuff,” he said Friday, April 12 as he and his fellow classmates built the base of three 8-foot-by-8-foot sheds.

Constructing the sheds, which will be for sale, is the students’ final project. They also built a deck for Gruening’s drama department and learned how to work with sheet metal.

Just halfway through the course, Hargraves said he has already acquired a wealth of useful knowledge.

“I didn’t know half this stuff when I joined,” he said.

Hargraves said the course appealed to him because he plans to pursue construction after graduating high school.

“This is a good way to start,” he said.

The class meets for two hours after school Monday through Friday for eight weeks. For their 80 hours of work, students earn half a credit.

“There’s commitment on their part,” Martin said.

Though manual labor is required, the class offers plenty of enjoyment, said Chugiak sophomore Kirstin Banfield, the program’s only female.

“I didn’t think it would be this fun,” she said. “I’m learning things.”

The inaugural class has been a success, Martin said, and he’d like to keep it going for future students.

“Hopefully, it can be something that’s continued,” he said.

Even his students don’t pursue construction as a career, Martin said, knowing how to make home repairs is a good skill to learn that saves money.

And it’s something Chugiak senior Spencer Davis won’t forget.

“I’ll be able to build a shed when I’m 40,” he said.

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