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How Philadelphia contractor-turned-teacher builds student knowledge

Syrah Voss Hargis, entering ninth grade at Philadelphia’s Lincoln High School this fall, spent part of Thursday morning building the “Bunny Mansion” at Fox Chase Farm.

She climbed a ladder, donned a safety harness, and used power tools to attach the roof beams and secure the plywood tiles to the small wooden structure that would become the rabbit’s house.

“It seems difficult,” said the 14-year-old boy. “But it’s fun.”

She was one of 16 middle school students who participated in the Fox Chase Farm project. This project is part of the evolution of the district’s career and technical education programs. This is the first time the school district has opened up summer work experience to her 7th and 8th graders for careers such as construction and technical education jobs.

It provided a great opportunity for students eager to participate in hands-on activities, especially during the pandemic and long distance learning.

This summer, 200 district students are taking career and technical education jobs as part of an ongoing partnership with the Philadelphia Youth Network. The Philadelphia Youth Network places and pays hundreds of city students in a variety of summer jobs and internships each year. Among his 60 people who work at Fox Chase Farm are her 16 middle school students from K-12 Mayfair in the northeast part of the city.

All 16 are students of former contractor Evin Jarrett, who teaches construction to grades 5-8. He is a professional teacher as well as art and music, and has students for just one hour a day while regular classroom teachers have time to prepare.

With a big smile on his face, Jarrett introduces students to the various construction-related programs available in high school: plumbing, electrical work, roofing, welding, and even masonry. The district has several schools that focus on career technical education, but many of these programs are also available at neighboring high schools like Lincoln’s.

All of the students in his “Bunny Mansion” crew were in the 9th grade, except for one who entered the 8th grade.

Many students are randomly assigned to his class, but like Boss-Hargis, many love the experience. Initially, he was to accept only five junior high school students for the summer program, but demand was so high that he “begged” the authorities to accept more.

In the summer program, Jarrett has 13 girls and 3 boys. Students who took the initiative and applied early were admitted, he said. He does his best throughout the year in the classroom to help students actually practice the trade, but the summer program is at its peak.

“It’s a great opportunity” for them to actually build things, he said. “There’s not much space in the classroom.”

Fox Chase is one of three farms in the city owned by the district and used for such special programs. (Walter B. Saul High School, located in the city’s Roxborough neighborhood, has its own farm and is, as far as district officials are aware, the only urban school in Pennsylvania.)

Jarrett creates a fun atmosphere for his students as well. He asks his students what music they like, creates playlists based on their tastes, and has it constantly blaring in the background while they work. That alone makes it attractive to students like Boss-Haggis.

“It’s not just the construction, it’s the atmosphere, the energy, the music,” she said. “When I heard about this job, I was so excited to be a part of it.”

The school district hopes to expand the introductory career and technical education programs to more middle schools, but officials said they have no immediate plans to do so. The Mayfair Program is the only pilot program under construction in the district.

Evin Jarrett had planned to become a teacher after high school, but instead spent years working in the construction industry. He is currently the only teacher in the Philadelphia area teaching middle school construction.

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Growing up in Mount Airy, Jarrett attended CW Henry, a K-8 school, before graduating from Roxborough High. He then went to Cheney University with the intention of becoming a teacher.

He deviated from that career path by working in construction for a while. But after teaching on the side at Orleans Tech, a school for adults who want to learn new work skills, he “loved teaching.” He went back to school to get his credentials and got a job in the district.

He loves teaching middle school students and is the only one in the entire district teaching construction trades to middle school students.

At Mayfair, the city’s largest non-high school with nearly 1,700 students, it’s mostly a matter of luck whether students are assigned to art, music, construction, or other “special” classes. However, the students say that Jarrett’s popularity has spread by word of mouth, with many wanting to join his class. I tried to finish as soon as possible.

“I don’t eat much lunch, I just go to his classes,” said 13-year-old Mohammed Muhadi, the only eighth grader in the summer group.

For Boss-Hargis, who grew up in New Jersey, this was his second year at school in Philadelphia and his first time in a classroom because of the pandemic.

“At first, I was just assigned to his class, and it was fun because it wasn’t just sitting all day listening to the teacher,” she said. I had real experience.”

Currently, she plans to take career and technical education courses at Lincoln.

A student is using a circular saw on a piece of wood during a construction project.

Sahmya Logan, 14, uses a circular saw on a construction project at Fox Chase Farm.

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Other students in the field said the Career and Technical Education courses give them the opportunity to do hands-on work, build things, and learn new practical skills. Even if his ambitions don’t include roofs and wooden beams, he enjoys learning from Jarrett.

14-year-old Samia Logan plans to hone her singing voice at Creative and Performing Arts High School. However, after she was assigned to Jarrett’s class, she came to know the difference between a circular saw and a miter saw. And she can operate both.

“I like and am good at cutting wood,” she said.

Arlene Mora, a 14-year-old attending Northeast High School, plans to become a surgeon. Now I think nothing of climbing onto a sloping roof and installing roof beams and plywood tiles. “I love it,” she said.

Central High School 14-year-old Eric Fripps said he especially liked carpentry. “I like the idea of ​​hands-on learning,” he said. “We are learning something new every day.”

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Mayfair students on the roof of Fox Chase Farm’s ‘Bunny Mansion’.

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Another thing he learned? “Patience is the key to getting anything done.”

For Alaris Martinez, 14, a prospective student at the University of Lincoln, the act of creating something “really opens people’s minds. And it gives us more opportunities.” I didn’t know there was such a class.”

Jarrett overheard his students talking about him as he supervised them in many activities.

“I’m Michael Jordan from CTE,” he joked.

Dale Mezzacappa is a senior writer at Chalkbeat Philadelphia, responsible for the city’s K-12 schools and early childhood education. She is a former president. educational writers associationPlease contact Dale at dmezzacappa@chalkbeat.org.

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