Lafayette teens test carpentry skills building Pre-K classrooms

High school students are helping the Lafayette Parish school system build its preschool program from the ground up — literally.

High school students studying carpentry at the W.D. and Mary Baker Smith Career Center are building portable classrooms designed specifically for the needs of a preschool classroom.

The district celebrated completion of the first preschool classroom at Carencro Heights Elementary on Tuesday. Students are working on a second preschool classroom which will be finished in time for young students in August.

“The best part about it is students who are coming through our system are giving back to students starting in our system,” Lafayette Parish School Superintendent Pat Cooper said Tuesday.

For the past 20 years, students studying carpentry at the Career Center have constructed portable buildings for the district to address continual growth on campuses.

Two years ago, the focus of the construction changed to expand preschool learning options in the district, Cooper said.

The market value for similar portable buildings is $130,000 to $140,000, while the preschool portable cost $65,000, Cooper said.

The classroom enabled Carencro Heights to offer its first regular education preschool class, said Martha Rose, school principal.

Previously, the school had four-year-old classes for English as a Second Language students and a “reverse mainstream” class, which is a class of special needs and non-special needs students taught by a special-education teacher.

The new classroom is a “Taj-Mahal” of classrooms, Rose said.

The district worked with architect Bob Barras to design the classroom, which features separate adult and child restrooms, a large storage closet and custom storage cubicles for each student, a large sink plus smaller sinks and drinking fountains sized for preschoolers.

Some of the high school carpentry students visited their finished product Tuesday at a district event at the school that celebrated the classroom construction project.

“This was my first time building anything,” said Dontraveun Arceneaux, 18, of Comeaux High.

Arceneaux takes courses at the Career Center that will help him earn his GED and a skills certificate in carpentry. Several of his fellow carpenter-students said they plan to pursue their interest in carpentry after high school.

“I picked it because my grandfather used to build houses and buildings,” said Ronquail Ollison, 18, of Acadiana High.

For Christopher Savoy, 17, of Carencro High, the most challenging part of the construction of the classroom was working on the roof.

“The heights,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t like heights, but I still went up and finished.”

Over the past 20 years, students in the carpentry program have contributed an estimated $2.5 million in projects, Pickett said.

The preschool classroom building is more modern with energy-efficient features and the design was adjusted for the younger students, Pickett said.

He also credited the work of the welding program at the Career Center for construction of a steel frame that allows the building to be moved up to 20 times without damage to the infrastructure.

“This is the best (project) we’ve done to date,” he said.

The carpentry program enrolls about 20 to 24 students each year with students, Pickett said.

The program provides students hands-on learning and the chance to earn industry-based certification or a skills certificate as a carpenter’s helper.

“The goal is that these students are learning real-life skills that can help them in a future career after high school,” said Greg Pickett, carpentry teacher. “This teaches them the basics of the trade, how to build and work with the tools.”