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From Construction Class to Happy Homeowners

Students Learn to Build Homes, Scope Out Careers

Talk about being invested in your students’ work.

After students spent last school year building a house through the East Kentwood High School residential construction class, Principal Omar Bakri bought it.

“I wasn’t planning on it,” said Bakri. “I stopped by the worksite to support the students and teachers. When I walked into the house, my jaw dropped. I fell in love with it right away.”

Bakri and his wife, Ayrica, a third-grade teacher at Explorer Elementary, also in Kentwood Public Schools, sold their Grand Rapids house and moved into the stately home in the Crystal Springs neighborhood with their children, Kian, a fourth-grader and Isaac, 20, in June.

Bakri loves the detail in the five-bedroom ranch, which boasts an open floor plan, brick fireplace, wood floors, cobblestone-bordered tile and 9-foot ceilings. “Everything seems solid, top to bottom,” he said.

Senior Bryce Hansen sits atop a ladder in a new house students are building
Senior Bryce Hansen sits atop a ladder in a new house students are building

Student-Built, Kentwood-Connected

Bakri’s house is among about 25 in the district built by students – with help from professionals – from the ground up. The class, taught for 13 years by Kyle Croskey, has been transforming teenagers into tradespersons since the mid-’80s, providing an invaluable experience. The program sustains itself because the sale of each house provides funding for the next. The district currently owns eight adjacent Crystal Springs lots for development.

Students gain experience in carpentry, windows and drywall installation, painting and assisting with electrics and plumbing. They install outlets, light switches and sinks, cut and polish granite countertops. They add their own design ideas and tweak things as they see fit.

Currently, 34 students are building a 2,700 square-foot, five-bedroom, three-and-a-half bathroom house, also in Crystal Springs. Students are already putting their own signature on it, modifying the original floor plan to include a wet bar in the basement, an expanded walk-in closet and a fancy, walk-in shower.

Students earn a math credit for the class, and it attracts a diverse group of teens. More than half enter construction or a skilled trade as a career or in a post-secondary program, Croskey said. Others want to learn to “do-it-yourself” at home.

“It’s kind of like a Montessori approach,” said Croskey, who sees students discover aptitudesfor different areas of construction, electrics, interior design. “I tell the students, find something you’re good at and get really good at it and the rest of it will come.”

It’s also about having a true sense of what occupations in construction entail. “We want you to have experience and decide if this is for you or not,” Croskey said.

It was the right fit for assistant construction teacher Cam Morris, a 2014 East Kentwood graduate, who took the class his senior year.

“The first time I worked with my hands was in this class,” Morris said. “I didn’t know I wanted to work with my hands for the rest of my life. It 100 percent changed my life and career path.”

Senior Corbin Butterly hoists up the drywall
Senior Corbin Butterly hoists up the drywall

A Strong Job Forecast

Skilled-trade professions are in high demand. According to the latest edition of the West Michigan Talent Assessment and Outlook, 10-year growth is projected in construction jobs, ranging from about 7 percent to 34 percent. Last year two students were hired by local companies because of the work they did in the class.

Hands-on exposure to careers creates the kind of connections students need, Bakri said. The class is a great example of the style of learning emphasized lately to build the future workforce. It helps students develop collaboration, problem-solving, creativity and critical-thinking skills. Said Bakri, “What (Croskey) is doing on a regular basis is exactly what we want our core teachers to do on a regular basis.”

Senior John Walma turns a wheel to lift drywall
Senior John Walma turns a wheel to lift drywall

Drills buzzed and hammers pounded as students installed drywall on a recent sunny Wednesday.

“It’s just the experience,” freshman Hector Avalos said about why he likes the class. He plans to become an engineer and start his own construction business. “You can look at something and say, ‘I know what that is and I know what that is.”

Senior Shannon McGhee said he’s learned to love carpentry and enjoys the setting of the class. “It’s more outdoors. You get out of the classroom. You do more hands-on things instead of being stuck in a classroom.”

Senior Jeremy Henry said he’s interested in carpentry as an occupation, but the class will help him in the future no matter what. “When I’m a homeowner, if something needs to be repaired I will know how to fix it.”

Senior Daniah Ali had her own reason for taking the course: defiance. “My brother took it and he said girls couldn’t do this.”


SNN Story: Wanted: More than a Few Work-Ready Grads

Seniors Allison Quinn and Chloe Quinn move a piece of drywall
Seniors Allison Quinn and Chloe Quinn move a piece of drywall

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.


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