Students at Valentine High School are receiving hands-on training in all aspects of construction thanks to a collaboration with the Mid-Plains Community College Valentine Campus.
The high school is using space in the MPCC Valentine Campus shop for the pilot program, which will allow building trade students to construct a cabin from the ground up.
"Approximately 10 students come in five days a week for about 45 minutes each session," said Carolyn Petersen, MPCC Valentine Campus administrator. "They bring their own tools and supplies and work in a covered and controlled environment, which gives them more time to focus on their project."
Petersen said the new collaboration builds on the partnership MPCC already has with Valentine High School to provide dual credit offerings. Her hope is that as they become familiar with Mid-Plains and its facilities, the high school students will decide to take classes through the college.
"We're here to meet stakeholder needs, and sometimes that comes back in the form of student enrollment," said Gail Knott, MPCC area associate dean of outreach. "I think this partnership just speaks to how every community campus is its own entity. We try very hard to stay out of that cookie cutter application with our community campuses because every community that Mid-Plains serves has different needs. This is the fit for Valentine. We are very appreciative that the college administration lets us try these types of things."
Andy Cronin, principal at Valentine High School, and Devin Muirhead, the high school's industrial technology instructor, approached the college about the use of the Valentine campus.
The high school had been seeing an increasing number of graduates pursuing careers in the building trade fields. As a result, it began doing more promotion of community colleges and applied technology programs.
"Mr. Muirhead developed a class, different from what we already had in building construction, that would go off-site to work," said Cronin. "The students built a garage one year and a club house for the golf course. But, often, they weren't there when the electrician came or when concrete was being poured. Smaller projects had to be invented to give them that experience."
The idea was to have the students create small modules that could be screwed together then taken apart at the end of the school year. Each module had framing, roofing, plumbing and electricity to teach them about multiple aspects of building construction.
"They were putting the modules together in a garage, but it was really cramped," Cronin said. "Also, by the end of each year, the lumber was already cut so the next group of students didn't get the full experience of doing the work themselves. That's when we got ahold of Carolyn."
At the Valentine Campus, the students are building a 14-foot by 24-foot cabin. It will consist of one bedroom, a bathroom and an open kitchen and living area. It will be somewhat customized to the buyer's preferences as it has already sold.
"The project encompasses plumbing, HVAC, everything," said Cronin. "Thanks to Mid-Plains Community College, we are able to give those kids the experiences they need, and hopefully along the way they will make a decision about whether or not they want to make a career out of building construction. It's one of those classes I wish I could have taken in high school."
The cabin is on wheels and can be pulled out if the room is needed for something else. In exchange for use of the shop, the high school offered up its space to the college whenever needed.
"It has been a fantastic opportunity and has really opened up the door to other ideas of what we might be able to use the campus for," said Cronin. "In a town that doesn't have a community center, that's important. We can lean on each other."
He's also appreciative of how supportive Mid-Plains has been and continues to be with Valentine High School students.
"Anytime they can get our students involved, that's just what MPCC does, and this pilot program is a prime example of that," said Cronin. "Our students are smart, and they take note. They know Mid-Plains did this for them. That trust is there."