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Marcial Rubio


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After spending nearly 25 years of his life in the building trades, Marcial J. Rubio decided he needed a change. His experience with teaching contracting skills to young people made him a perfect fit for a job that became available in Virginia's Fairfax County Public Schools. Today, Rubio leads high school students in the amazing feat of building an entire house.

This home built by Rubio's students is nearly complete.

"The focus of our residential construction program is to actively involve as many students as is reasonable for the space we have available, and to teach them every aspect of the construction industry that we can," Rubio told Education World. "While working here in the program, students have the opportunity to observe and work hands-on with design aspects as well as the different trades."

The first facet of construction that the students at the Spring Hill Residential Construction Site encounter is safety. They learn ladder and scaffolding safety, how to work appropriately with hand tools, power tool safety, and more. Next, they tackle reading blue prints.

"Then we start, as with all houses, from the ground up -- foundation and the first floor framing," explained Rubio. "We work on the framing until we reach the point at which we need trusses. For safety reasons, the crane operation and installation of the trusses is completed by subcontractors. All the remaining work on the house is done by students under my supervision." When a house is completed, it is sold, and the profits are used to fund the next project. So far, Rubio's students have built nearly 20 homes.

When subcontractors are asked to participate in the project, they are required to teach one specific class about their trade and to work directly with students as part of their contract. Students even take part in some design features of the house, such as the selection of appliances and cabinets. Giving meaning to the phrase "earn while you learn," these student workers receive wages for the work they do after class. The program is a joint venture between the school district and the Foundation for Applied Technical Education, Inc.

"The main motivation for most of my students is a curiosity about the building industry," Rubio reports. "A large percentage of our students move into the construction industry and seek management positions or careers in engineering or architecture, and some pursue a bachelor's degree, so they can go into business on their own somewhere down the road. Ultimately, nine out of ten of our students go on to college."

Rubio's students often are surprised by the number of career possibilities that exist in the construction industry. One of his current students didn't have any idea what he would do after graduation, and college held no interest for him. After one year, he has worked hard to bring up his grades and has been accepted by a small college. He wants to enter construction management and use it as a springboard to start his own business.

"This young man now has a set of goals he is moving toward," Rubio observed. "He has even begun working after school doing odd jobs to try to obtain more experience in the construction industry." The student's parents also recognize that their son has experienced a dramatic change.

Rubio added, "I think that's what the program is about -- helping to expose these young people to something they know nothing about, and give them something they can use for the rest of their lives, even if it's knowledge they can use on their own homes one day."

Photo courtesy of Marcial Rubio.

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If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected].

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

05/12/2006