Educational and Technical Experience
We visited the student-built community of custom-designed homes adjacent to the Oley Valley Elementary School. The Berks Career & Technology Center (BCTC) students are currently working on the 22nd home in the program’s history. BCTC programs are designed to provide students a technical educational experience relative to real-world businesses and industries. The experienced instructors for each project develop a high-quality curriculum to prepare students with the skills and knowledge to enter the workforce upon graduation.
Students in grades 10, 11, and 12 who reside in any of the 16 participating school districts are encouraged to apply to the BCTC programs. Once accepted into the program, the first year is centered around building a foundation and introducing the material. The second and third years are focused on learning how to use specific tools for different tasks coupled with on-site job training of their chosen program.
Generally, the school day is divided into two separate sections. The morning sessions operate from 7:45 a.m. until 11 a.m., while the afternoon sessions operate from 11:45 a.m. until 3 p.m. These sessions are determined by a student’s overall schedule and school district. Students will attend one of the two sessions, and spend the other half of the day at their high school. Due to Covid-19, BCTC has had to adapt and create a hybrid schedule to maintain safe learning conditions in and out of the classroom. Instructors use Schoology, an online course management system, to engage the students on days when classes are online.
The Programs and Past Builds
BCTC has two campuses, East and West, located in Oley and Leesport who offer thirty-four different career programs. The 22nd housing project includes students from the construction program working in subsets of masonry, HVAC, horticulture, plumbing & heating, carpentry, electrical, building construction, painting, cabinetry and decorating.
Jeffrey Miller, a carpentry instructor on the East Campus with over 33 years’ experience as a custom home builder, remembers the original twelve plots of land BCTC purchased in the early 2000s. These plots have since been used to teach students how to build custom homes properly. As the programs grew and additional students opted to join BCTC, more homes were built and almost all of the plots were used.
In 2017, BCTC students completed the construction of a custom design, cape-cod style home located in the student-built development. The 2,332 square-foot house was awarded Division 1 honors from the Home Builders Association of Berks County and was featured in the Parade of Homes. This home and all BCTC-built homes are sold at private auctions that benefit the students by offsetting the cost of updated equipment and technology. An open-house and family-style picnic is provided for the students and their families to showcase the student’s hard work and prestige behind the programs.
The 22nd Home
The current student project is a 2,000 square-foot build that was started at the height of the pandemic. A house typically takes two years to complete, but because of Covid-19, the project is in its second year and should be completed within the next year. The house’s brick foundation and framework were on display as well as, Viwinco’s S-Series New Construction windows. Once on-site, we met with Jess Werner, Marketing Coordinator, and Michael Kern, Masonry Instructor.
Michael Kern is the masonry instructor on the East campus and he is also the owner of a PA licensed construction firm. He has thirty years’ experience in masonry and extensive experience as an NCCER certified instructor. Michael found Viwinco through the GRCA and contacted our marketing department, to ask about pricing. We decided to collaborate and donate the windows for the BCTC project. He has used Viwinco windows in projects through his firm and recommends them to anyone who might be in the market for windows. Viwinco windows have always been a top choice for Michael and he was thrilled to hear about the donation.
Michael treats the job site as he would in a real-life build, to give the students a more-accurate experience. As he gave us a tour of the home’s interior, he pointed out all the programs that were included in all of the construction stages. He explained that the basement was a print-to-product build that masonry students were able to complete whereas the kitchen layout has been left relatively open for the cabinet class to fill in. Other classes involved in the build are Building Construction trades taught by Matt Huck, Cabinetry taught by Gerry Gaczynski, Plumbing taught by Mike Wentling and HVAC taught by Tom Danner.
Michael said, “During their time with us, the kids earn their OSHA CareerSafe 10-hour, (NCCER) Core, and the Pennsylvania Builders Association Skills Certifications. We want to make sure that the kids are prepared for their career path upon graduation and have all of the certifications and hands-on experience needed to be successful in life. I can promise 100% employment to any kid who completes the masonry program and can connect them to several companies and I personally hire two students every year to work for my business. During Covid-19, we saw a growth in class sizes. The students are more enthusiastic than ever to learn their particular craft. Attendance is high and the students want to be here.”
On March 1, 2022, our team revisited the construction site to see the student’s progress. When we arrived we were met by both Michael and Jeff. They walked us around the property and showed us the finished brick siding and foundation. Then, we walked through the home which progressed greatly since our previous visit. Drywall was installed, painting was in progress, a kitchen half-wall had been added, lighting was finished and all windows had been fit to the house. The windows were our S-Series New Construction with 5/4″ sill and 3-1/4″ trim casing. “At this point in the home-building process all trades are involved,” Jeff explained. “The drywall, painting, and concrete pouring had to be outsourced due to time constraints of the program, but other than that the kids have done everything.” Currently, the students are also working through the National Occupational Competency Tests or NOCTI. These exam assess the student’s skill level and encompasses all aspects of the class. This ensures the kids have broad knowledge base of their chosen trade. After exams are finished, progress on the home will continue. The house is expected to be completed in 2023, pending landscaping, porch development and flooring.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 8 million skilled-labor jobs were lost from the labor force during the pandemic. About half have been filled, but about 4 million vacancies remained in industries responsible for most transportation, construction, and mechanical needs nationwide. Now, these skilled-labor jobs are in high demand among a nationwide shortage. Students who participate in this program get real hands-on training and have the opportunity to graduate and continue a job in their trade. With the rapid decline of skilled workers, we are happy to see programs like BCTC continuing to give students the opportunity for a great future. This project has allowed the students to apply their skills and knowledge under the direction of their instructors. Unfortunately, the students who were part of the build who have already graduated or those graduating this year will not be able to see the final complete home. We are excited to revisit the build site once the home is complete and are happy to have donated the windows they needed. There will be a follow up blog to discuss the completed house in further detail. We look forward to the finished project and wish the students the best in their future careers.