Murrieta high school students can now learn construction basics

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Murrieta Canyon Academy teacher Lou De Lorca sees moving away from teaching math and English to construction as a welcome change.

“(This) is a hands-on and viable skillset,” he said in a phone interview. “Not that English and math weren’t; that was a cognitive set. But this is hands-on for that student who doesn’t have aspirations of college just yet.”

De Lorca knows how valuable those skills can be. He paid his way through college working construction and still holds his contractor’s license today.

“I have a vested interest; it worked,” De Lorca said. “Seeing education evolve and twist and turn the way it has over the last 30 years, we’ve come to the realization that kids need vocation skills, job skills, not just higher-level academic skills that get them into college. Research has proven that a lot of kids don’t want to go to college. They’re interested in working with their hands.

“They’ve created this pathway now, which is career tech education,” he said. “We’re getting kids on a career path. I taught English and math for many, many years, and I saw the kids kind of like, ‘well, I’m not going to college. I want to be a beautician, or I want to be a mechanic.’ And I hadn’t kind of talked them through it.

“When this came out, I thought, bingo, hands-on, it’s a trade. Kids are going to work with their hands. The job market is headed in the construction field. Especially in this area of Murrieta, because all the new houses that came up in the last 10 years, well, now they’re going to be in a maintenance mode, right? Painting windows, remodels and the kids from this community would step right into that kind of stuff.”

De Lorca heads up the brand-new Construction CTE pathway at Murrieta Canyon Academy, the Murrieta Valley Unified School District’s alternative education school that is having its first class this school year.

The program is a little more than two years in the making and, obviously, the students who are already enrolled in the new class are working remotely with virtual learning. But so far, the program has raised more than $140,000 in grants and has created partnerships with businesses such as Lowe’s and the Southwest Carpenter’s Union for materials and learning materials and curriculum.

“It’s a general construction class, it’s not like a woodworking class,” Shane Sands, assistant principal at Murrieta Canyon Academy/Murrieta Valley Adult School, said. “They’re actually getting construction skillsets, whether it be framing or drywall or electrical or plumbing, it’s kind of the whole gamut. When they come out of this, the idea is they could walk onto a job site and they would have pretty good content knowledge, or they could go into like the Southwest Carpenter’s Union and start continuing their path to being a journeyman.”

De Lorca said they have also partnered with Palomar and Mt. San Jacinto colleges and the National Center for Construction, Education and Research, a consortium which includes a national registry for these students to join.

“The kids will register in that and they take the same quiz. It’s test-based and practicum-based,” De Lorca said. “I would be sponsored by that organization as one of their teachers. When they submit the test, the national registry grades it, and then I submit the practicum pass-fail practicum.

“If these kids wanted to further their education in construction, the knowledge base would transfer to (those schools) that are also part of the consortium that we’re in,” he said. “If you showed up and took a San Jacinto construction class, they would go, ‘Oh, you were at the MCA construction class. OK, good. Then I’m going to work with you because I know you guys know what you’re doing down there.’ Then their class would be construction management or whatever they matriculated to.”

De Lorca laid out the framework for the program.

“We’re setting up the class up in three components, three prongs if you will,” he said. “One is the actual classes. The class is set up for the skills training, and it’s going to include maybe 12 of the trades. This is all general basic knowledge, carpentry, plumbing, drywall, tiling, flooring, framing, roofing, windows. And they’re going to be in a lab setup. There’ll be some books that accompany the knowledge so there we will be posting quizzes for the knowledge set, but then there’s going to be a practical set. Once you pass the knowledge set, now you’ve got to show me hands-on by doing, and that’s going to be a pass-fail practicum. So they’re applying their knowledge right there on the spot.

“We also have partners. We’re setting up economic development pieces to where these kids when they graduate have marketable skills, and we’re setting them up with partners in the community, union, non-union contractors, building industry people who they can market their skills to,” De Lorca said.

Though strictly virtual thanks to COVID-19, the lab-based class will be based on campus when students are allowed to return to school. MCA is also in the process of building a new campus with a heavy CTE class mindset in its development.

“That new structure that we’ll be building will have, six different CTE pathway classrooms, which will be different in the sense that they’re larger,” Sands said. “And they’ll be designed specifically for the pathways that we’re building right now. The construction pathway, specifically, is a real heavy conversation because that will be on the backside of the building, which will have roll-up doors and the students will have an indoor-outdoor kind of learning experience. There will be an outdoor quad area where the students will be building tiny houses and doing different projects out there.”

Sands said that while the class is based at MCA, students throughout the district can take the class.

“Every student in our district has the ability to take this class through a co-enrollment environment,” he said. “They could be at Mesa; they could be at (Murrieta Valley) or even Vista (Murrieta), even though it’s a little bit farther, but, they get co-enrolled with us and take that class. We positioned it at the end of the day, so they would have that ability.”

Sands said interested students should contact their school counselor for more information.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at jpack@reedermedia.com.