The school of hammers and saws


The Mirror

DJ Dewaele, André Johnson and Joe Kulakowski like their classes at Thomas Jefferson High School –– especially the ones where hammers, saws and sanders are used as much as pencils, notepads and textbooks.

The three freshmen are part of a new curriculum at the school.

Like nursing, teaching and other professions, carpenters, drywallers and other construction careers are seeing fewer people on the jobsite.

Older carpenters are retiring in greater numbers than new ones signing onto apprentice programs with local union shops, according to Rudy Guillen of Local 1144 of the Carpenters Union.

Which is where Jefferson's Construction Apprenticeship Preparation Program (CAPP) comes in. Brainstormed five years ago, CAPP is laying the foundation of its first year. Ten students are the first class that will spend the next four years learning about carpentry, drywall and construction while taking their English, math and physical education classes.

Once students successfully complete the four-year program, they are eligible to join a union as an apprentice, but at a higher pay rate than someone who walked in off the street. Plus, their work at Jefferson pays off because they will finish the apprenticeship sooner. They can also use the skills to work for themselves.

Students in CAPP spend three periods together in the construction program before spending the rest of their school days in other classes.

Besides expanding his knowledge of the building industry, Kulakowski said he's making new friends.

Johnson said he plans to use the training to work in construction and expand his career into real estate.

Federal Way Public Schools superintendent Tom Murphy and School Board member Charles Hoff have been advocates of such programs (including a national automobile technicians program at Decatur High School), especially as the date gets closer when high school sophomores will have to start passing the state's WASL exam to get a diploma. The class of 2008 must pass the test next year.

There are programs similar to CAPP around the state and region. Bothell High School has a program, as does South Seattle Community College.

Jefferson was selected because it had a shop. Most of the cost of the program is paid via the students' enrollment in the school district. There were some minimal startup costs for new equipment and tools, said Sally McLean, the district's finance officer.

Students start with the basics in the first year, from reading a tape measure to safety, said industrial arts teacher Matt Crook.

The following years, the program becomes more advanced as students learn about reading plans, getting hands-on experience with small projects and maybe doing some job shadows –– spending a day with professionals at work. The fourth year is expected to have a project the class builds, maybe a house.

The program is a good opportunity for students who are not planning to go to college, Duvall said, and for college-bound students who want a professional trade skill as a secondary option.

State Rep. Skip Priest (R-30th District and Federal Way) has legislation pending to create similar programs that will be alternatives to passing the WASL for students to graduate.

Guillen said a lot of apprentices are in their late 20s when they come to the carpenters union. Some have been to college but found it didn't fit them. And becoming a drywall apprentice is better-paying –– $14.34 an hour –– than some other jobs.

Unions are going back to schools to get students interested in the trades after several years of staying away, Guillen said.

Also, the national Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports union members are 12.5 percent of the nation's salary and wage workers. In 1983, it was more than 20 percent.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565,

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