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A class all its own

Friday, March 19, 2004

Adam Davis and Chris Short paint the walls of a newly-constructed home off of Murphy Avenue.

Many students create things throughout their time in high school. Art students make paintings and sculptures. Home Economics students bake, cook, and make other foods. Dan Dragon's Building Trades students build houses.

The class, now in its 30th year, has built 30 houses with the help of hundreds of students. They are involved in every aspect of a dwelling's creation, including carpentry, drywalling, masonry, and wiring. Dragon and assistant instructor Rod Clarke show the students what they need to know over the course of two years with a mix of classroom and on-the-job learning. It is comprised of juniors and seniors. There are 20 students involved this year, 13 from Northview and 7 from Clay City High. It is a three credit-hour program.

"We don't do a lot of classroom work," Dragon says. "We're usually out there working on a house."

And work they do. Dragon's students work in two shifts, one group before noon and one after. The houses aren't small, either.

"All of the houses are in the low 2,000-square-foot range," Dragon said.

Their current house, located off of Murphy Avenue, is nearing its final stages of completion. The brick home is being painted, and there are still bricks to be laid on the outside, among other small jobs. It will, however, be completed by the end of the school year.

"We hold an open house every year to show what we've done," Dragon said.

The houses, which are funded by the not-for-profit Clay County Schools Building Trades Training Corporation, are popular in the county. Dragon said that interested persons put their name on a list to buy a home, and are contacted when their names come up. The list usually holds 12 names, though the corporation adds and subtracts a few names each year.

This is Dragon's 11th year teaching the program. His predecessor, Bill Brown, retired in 1993.

"It gives these kids exposure to skilled labor, trades, and crafts in the industry," Dragon said. "I want people to see what we do and make them aware of the open house."

For the most part, second-year students in the program can pick and choose what they want to do when working on a house. This gives them practice in the specific area they're interested in, Dragon said. That does not mean that they won't do other work, however.

"Everyone works on everything," he said. "That house has to get done."

First year students are awarded with personalized jackets for their work within the program. The one area students get limited work on is plastering, because of the specialized skill needed to do it. A sub-contractor comes to the house to show the students how to perform the task, then picks four or five to work with him during his time there.

Dragon said that the program is implemented around the state.

"It's obviously not in every county," he said, "but I'd say about half the corporations in the state have some form of it."

Clarke said that the program is helpful in more ways than one.

"We're fortunate to have this in Clay County," he said. "The students might not excel in the classroom, but they excel here."

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