Ditching their pencils and paper in exchange for hammers and nails, students at Howell Cheney Technical High School are building their education.
At Mike Sokola's house in Manchester, a group of juniors and seniors are building a new master bedroom as part of the Connecticut Technical High School System construction trades program.
By trusting a group of high school students with the construction of an addition to his house, Sokola is saving a considerable amount of money. In return, he must be patient.
"I don't think it's unreasonable to say that going through a contractor, I would say an addition like that would be anywhere from $60,000 to $80,000," Sokola said. "However… it would have been built and finished inside of two months."
Instead, at a final estimated cost of between $20,000 and $30,000, Sokola will settle for a 10 to 12 month timetable. The carpentry and electric work is being done by Cheney Tech students, while the plumbing will be done by students from A.I. Prince Technical High School in Hartford.
While money was the biggest motivator for Sokola's decision to go with an alternative contractor, he also said he likes that the project offers real world experience for the students. Sokola has nephews at Vinyl Tech in Middletown who told him about similar work they were able to do through their school.
"It's something to further their education," Sokola said. "With the work that they're doing and how they conduct themselves — I'm definitely impressed. I'm totally content with how things are going."
Bob Hughes, head of the Cheney Tech carpentry department and a supervisor on the project, said the experience is important for his students.
"When they… go on the outside production jobs, they have contact with homeowners," Hughes said. "They have to work from the blueprints. They have to do the estimating of the materials. It's as if they are a contractor."
Hughes said the most important thing to remember, from both his and the homeowner's perspective, is that it's a learning experience.
"What a contractor could do in a couple of weeks it could take us the better part of the year," Hughes said. "My job is not to get in there and bang nails. I have to teach them how."
For students like Ryan Davis, a 16-year-old junior from Manchester, being able to leave the classroom and work at a private home is a valuable experience. He hopes to start his own carpentry business someday.
"I really didn't want to go to a regular high school," Davis said. "I wanted to have something more. Not many high school students get to come out and work on something that 20- or 30-year-olds would be doing."
Davis said he was inspired by his grandfather, a carpenter who built his own house in Maine. Working on Sokala's house, at 18 Jordt St., has taught him a lot about working with others as a team.
"You have to rely on and trust each other," Davis said. "You have to make sure people can do jobs or tasks on their own."
Kyle Thibodeau, a 17-year-old junior from Tolland, said the job is important to him because his class is putting their school's name on the project.
"At a regular high school you just sit in a classroom all day," Thibodeau said. "But with this, you apply what you learn. If you had just learned it in a classroom and went out and worked, it would probably be more difficult. Getting a visual and hands on [experience] is a lot better."
The program is billed by Connecticut Technical High School System as their "best kept secret" and Hughes agrees.
"Time is not money to us," Hughes said. "We will do it until we get it right. It's just going to take us longer. In the long run it's beneficial to the homeowner financially."