Students Get A Charge Out Of 'Real' Job

February 24, 1993|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

The electrical crew wiring Steven and Angela Carpenter's house arrives by bus -- school bus.

The workday lasts only about 90 minutes, but interest is high.

"If we mess up here, there's a problem. It's somebody's house. It's a real job," says Paul Southard, a 12th-grade electrical technology student at Southeastern Technical Magnet School in Dundalk.

Besides, the crew's foreman is also its teacher.

Working at the Carpenters' is the first real-life project that young Southard and his 11 classmates have done, and the first time Southeastern students have gone off-campus for a "live job," says their foreman-teacher William Smith.

The job is wiring the second-story addition to the Carpenters' home on Leslie Road in Dundalk. And it was Steven Carpenter's idea to have Mr. Smith's students do the work.

"We were visiting at Southeastern and Steven sort of joked, 'Why don't you have your second-year students come wire the house?' " Mrs. Carpenter recalls.

Both of the Carpenters graduated from the technical school and have remained friends with Mr. Smith.

Mr. Carpenter, an electrician for Windsor Electric Co., had intended to wire the four-room addition himself, but "it would have taken him forever to get this done," says his wife.

The Carpenters have done most of the other work, even ripping the gabled roof off their home last spring when they started the project.

Mr. Carpenter didn't have to ask his former teacher twice.

With the help of a county building inspector and another electrician from Windsor, Mr. Smith got the necessary permit. He spent several class periods preparing the youngsters for what they would be doing on the job.

For the past two weeks the students have been working from Mr. Carpenter's plans -- drilling holes in beams, running electrical conduit, placing switch boxes and installing outlets. If all goes as planned, county inspectors will give thumbs up to their work today and the "roughing" phase of the job will be done.

The students will be back to put in receptacles, hang fixtures and install switch plates in the spring, if the Carpenters get the rest of the work finished before school is out.

"These are skills that the kids have practiced for about 1 1/2 years in classrooms and in labs. Even in a lab setting, it's . . . sheltered," says Mr. Smith. "This is a live situation. You have to be prudent and cautious, but they are not going to get the experience any other way. The major benefit is . . . that they have more confidence. This is what this class needed."

Mr. Smith has taught for 13 years at the technical school, which draws its students from five high schools in southeastern Baltimore County. Students spend a half day at their home schools and then come to Southeastern for a half day of technical education.

The Carpenters have supplied the materials; the students work for free. Mr. Smith says electricians would charge $1,500 to $1,800 for the job.

"I think it's more fun than being in the classroom," says 12th-grader Ben Waga.

He also says he and his fellow students are more serious on the job than they are in school, not "goofing around as much."

Learning to work together responsibly has been an important lesson for 11th-grader James Lemmonings.

"If one person screws up, it throws everything off," he says.

Mrs. Carpenter says she is confident of the students' work.

"I had no worries whatsoever," she said. "I trust Mr. Smith. I think it's a neat idea."

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