Boys Republic’s Students and Teachers Work to Improve Campus
Steel rebar criss-crosses inside of wooden frames. The heavy hum of a concrete mixer can be heard over a group of men and boys caught up in conversation with each other. This group has gathered on the construction site of a parking lot that is being built on Boys Republic’s main campus. Adult instructors and workers are helping the Masonry students learn how to pour concrete in order to build a parking lot. The group splits into teams and they all set to work. The more experienced students are paired with adults that show them how to do the harder jobs.
For Mr. Perez, the masonry teacher, having the students work on projects with a crew of experienced workers is mutually beneficial. He explains, “you get the youth and energy of the young guys with the wisdom and experience of the old guys.” In this way, the students build and learn in an environment that simulates a real life construction site. The teenagers also observe the behaviors of the more experienced men and how they interact with each other.
“My guys know when it’s a good time to put the kids in and let them do the work,” says Mr. Perez. Over the course of the class, the instructors will step back more often while the kids take on more responsibilities. This kind of trust increases the students self-esteem and builds their confidence while they work to refine their masonry skills.
Enrique, one of the more senior students of the class, is tasked with smoothing the concrete, following one of his classmates who is directing the flow of the wet cement into wooden frames. They work quickly because if they don’t the cement will start to solidify and become harder to manage.
“I love this class,” Enrique says, “they don’t teach us like kids. I like learning with my hands. I think I learn better this way.” Mr. Perez adds that “some of the kids that may not be very good academically pick up building very quickly.”
“We always tell them that a good mason knows how to cover his own mistakes,” Mr. Perez explains. This is a good life lesson too. For teens like Enrique, being able to make mistakes is important. It gives them a chance to figure out how to solve problems they would typically encounter in other masonry projects.
“I think in this class, I learned not to give up when it gets hard,” reflects Enrique, “‘cause if I do then the parking lot or wall I’m building will look stupid.” By observing the adults, students learn that it is okay to be imperfect as long as they keep trying. They also learn that it is okay to ask for help if they need it. Through their actions, instructors and workers model good work habits and skills that will help students like Enrique to succeed in the workforce when they leave Boys Republic.
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