Students get hands on lesson in skilled tradesBy Yasmine Regester, Peacemaker Staff Writer / February 23, 2023
Jackson Middle School 8th grader, Ny’jah Oakley, used a power drill for the first time and helped build a picnic table on Friday during a career day highlighting skilled trades.
“It was fun. I’ve never built anything like this before. It turns out that it was easier than what it seems like when you see a whole picnic table,” said Oakley, who added she can see herself building other things, like furniture.
“Never say that you can’t do something. It may be out of your comfort zone at first but put yourself out there because you can do it,” she added.That was exactly the type of response they were hoping to get from students, said LaToya Faustin, executive director of She Built This City, co-organizer of the event.
“It’s not hard to get the young ladies interested. I think there’s a curiosity that they have. We see their confidence grow as they participate in events like these. At first, they may have been afraid to touch the tool, but a few hours later, they are stepping up to be the one to use the tool in the project. We love to see that spark ignited,” said Faustin.
She Built This City (SBTC) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide programming that sparks interest and builds pathways to careers in the skilled trades for youth, women and marginalized communities.
In addition to the Charlotte-based nonprofit She Built This City, The SHIELD Mentor Program, workwear brands Timberland PRO, Saf-Gard and national brands, Lowe’s and Robert Bosch Tool Corporation (Bosch Tools), volunteered to introduce students at Jackson Middle School to careers in skilled trades on February 17.
For the event, fifty students were selected to work alongside volunteers from the participating organizations to build, sand and seal picnic tables, which will be donated to community organizations throughout Greensboro, including the East White Oak Community Center.
Anthony Pass, Innovative Partnership Grant Coach at Jackson Middle School, shared that the project is unique because it combines hands on learning, career development, and community service into one experience.
“We just wanted our students to do something where they are learning and giving back to the community. Our students are interested in learning, but not everyone learns the same way. So, this also allows some hands-on activity outside of the classroom environment. School should be a safe space, not just for education, but also the social aspect,” said Pass.
Faustin, a Jackson Middle School alum and member of the school’s advisory council, shared her excitement to bring this opportunity back to her former school and community.
“We realize that career decisions are made early. So we start as early as seven years old with hands on building to just expose these untapped pathways that women and communities of color have been excluded from. Years ago, the heart of our communities, were the tradespeople. We were the electricians, we were the plumbers, we were the carpenters for our communities,” she said.
Faustin also noted that the gradual removal of trade career courses in public schools over the last two decades has contributed to the decline in Black and Brown communities being engaged in these industries. She added that even if construction is not the chosen path, the skills they can acquire are valuable.
“No matter where you go, you can be self-sufficient, and you can make a living. We want women to know that this is a space where you can excel,” she said.
SBTC not only provides programs for youth girls aged 9-12 and 13- 17 to expose them to industries, but a third program for post-college aged women. Each program works to provide pathways for women and girls into skilled trades such as, construction, automotive, engineering, equipment operation & entrepreneurship in underrepresented spaces.
Much like SBTC’s Program Impact Manager, Alexia Ennis-King.
After years as a licensed clinical social worker, King decided to switch her career focus to carpentry. She had always enjoyed working with her hands and was able to flex her creative muscles building a dining room table as a wedding gift for a friend. She then sought out her the local community college, found some courses, and was able to later enroll in an apprenticeship. That led her landing a job with a company building sliding barn doors.
Now she’s able to bring her expertise in social work and her passion for carpentry into helping other women find their footing in a skilled trade.
“Young people just need access. When you’re young and are looking at career paths, you never really know what you are capable of if it is not accessible to you,” said King.
“I didn’t know that I was interested in this trade until it was right in front of me. There’s a general sense of fearing something that you don’t know. But it starts with exposure and I think it’s powerful for the students to see someone like me doing this work and they think, ‘that can be me too,” said King.