Originally, the idea was to teach Albany Options School students basic construction skills by having them build a small storage shed behind the alternative school.

But by the time school officials and the district's family and community liaison had completely explored the idea, they had a full-fledged student construction club — and a plan to carry campus improvements into the new year and beyond.

Albany Options School's new construction club has now wrapped up its first projects: three concrete pads at the back of the school. One replaces the gravel under the covered break area, one will be a half-sized basketball court and one will be the base of the shed to be built after the holiday break.

David Jazmin, the district's family and community liaison, and Gabe Diaz, the school's new Latino outreach and family liaison, are overseeing the nine students in the club. Work started Nov. 1 and will continue with shed construction and completion of the basketball court after the winter break.

A couple of factors came together to make the club possible. First, Greater Albany Public Schools had state money available for the school through Measure 98, which provides funding to improve graduation rates through dropout prevention efforts and career-technical classes.

And second, in addition to his regular day job at the Welcome Center adjacent to Albany Options School, Jazmin is the owner of J Bros Concrete, LLC. He had all the necessary skills and tools at his disposal to teach students to pour concrete.

Both of those factors made Principal John Hunter happy. For starters, he'd been grousing about the bits of gravel students would track inside every time they used the covered area out back for lunch or a break. He was also looking for ways to expand hands-on opportunities at the school, which lacks a shop class.

Jazmin suggested the gravel be replaced by a concrete pad and said he could teach the students how to pour it. Hunter wasn't sure about that at first, but after he and Jazmin got to talking about having students learn to build a shed, and how that shed would need to stand on a concrete pad anyway, the idea started to take shape.

When Jazmin came back to say Knife River had agreed to donate all the materials — soil, crushed rock and concrete — the club became a reality. 

The club is as much a class as an extracurricular activity, Hunter said. Students can earn up to a full elective credit if they attend each session.

On days when weather prevented outdoor work, the students attended training sessions on safety, power tool use and how to calculate expenses.

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They're also building the "soft" skills employers want along with the ability to use tools, measure angles and read blueprints, he said. Attendance, participation, effort and discipline are as much a part of the work as the construction itself.

So far, the club appears to be paying off for students academically as well as vocationally. Attendance rates for the nine participants have gone up 7 percent, on average, between now and when the club started. The last six-week grading period showed an average increase in scores of 0.13, meaning a student who might have had a 2.5 grade point average last term is now up to 2.63.

"Not the most stunning data and it of course isn't isolated, but it shows trends," Harryman said.

Harryman, Hunter, Jazmin and Diaz say they've heard nothing but positive remarks from students involved in the club. They're excited to be practicing real-life job skills, working outside and building something permanent they can both use and now and point out in the future.

"They can take pride in their school: 'This is something that I'm leaving. I contributed to this,'" Jazmin said. 

Ernie Berridge, 17, is part of the club. He was already interested in construction as a trade and said the concrete work just bolstered his future plans.

"Just being able to get an opportunity to come out and try it, it's more eye-opening to what I want to do in the future," he said. "I want to be down and dirty and doing stuff." 

The Albany Options School campus doesn't have a lot more room for concrete pads, but Hunter and Jazmin said the school will be looking for new projects next year to keep the club going. Landscaping might be next on the skill list, or fence work, or irrigation.

"There's definitely lots of things left here to do," Jazmin said.

Diaz said the best part, for him, has been watching the students grow in skills, pride and maturity. He noted some went out of their way at a recent job fair, unprompted, to thank Knife River for its donation.

"That was just a great feeling," he said. "This is working." 

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