Outdoor classroom

Monticello High School building and trades students tour access tunnels beneath the school that were emptied out as part of the district’s $35 million construction project.

Monticello’s $35 million school construction effort is not only upgrading the high school and Washington Elementary campus, but is serving as an outdoor classroom for grade and high schoolers alike.

The onset of the project conveniently coincides with the first year of a building and trades class at the high school. Those students have toured the job site twice this fall, giving instructor Ryan Woodham a field trip without having to hop on a bus.

It could not have worked out any better. We are implementing a building and trades program while examples are going on right outside the window,” he said. “It’s really helping get kids interested because they get to do on a small scale what is being done on a large scale all around them.”

Students have already been putting their newfound knowledge to good use.

For example, they can see block being laid for a large wall in a bathroom one day, and the next they can lay block for a press box at the baseball field,” said Woodham, who points out that his students have also seen welding, precast panels installed, and the inside of the construction trailer with all of the plans laid out.

The benefits are not limited to high school classrooms. Fourth through sixth graders at Washington Elementary can see what’s going on when they are out on recess, and are taking notice.

I have a group of fifth grade boys that, every day at recess they are watching. I walked up to them and said something when they were doing the foundations for the elementary extension. One fifth grade boy said ‘this is what I want to do when I get bigger.’ And I think it’s from observing it,” said Washington Elementary Principal Nancy Rosenbery.

We are really enjoying the building going up, and the changes we see every day,” she added.

High schoolers have also had their interest peaked in a possible career in construction.

I have seen kids get really excited about the idea of a career in construction. My goal is to make sure that all students have all the options laid out for them,” added Woodham. “I have always seen a value in the trades and manufacturing and want to make sure students see these opportunities as well. It’s not college-for-all anymore, and I hope to continue helping kids see that.”

A key to coordinating the construction work with the school curriculum has been site superintendent Mark Kaufman, who takes time to speak to classes and take them on tours. He also shows them the nuts and bolts of the ongoing construction, answering questions as they arise.

School board member Kevin Frye admits the outdoor classroom was not a benefit he had thought about when the project was undertaken.

I guess that’s one of the perks we didn’t think about,” he said at a school board meeting last month.