For the love of what they do, for wanting kids to discover an interest in some aspect of building, for years, decades even, the men and women who have run school construction projects for O&G have gone further than their assignment.
They’ve taken it upon themselves to involve the students – usually middle school age through high school and their teachers – in their projects. Doing so has turned construction into a teaching opportunity and has given direction to youth who were either adrift or tuned out.
It was in 2014, as the four-year Orville H. Platt High School project got underway in Meriden, that then Project Manager Dave Cravanzola, with Superintendent Steve Baranello, saw a opportunity to formalize a program and, as Cravanzola puts it, “give people outside our industry a view inside.” They teamed with Platt’s Guidance Department and STEM teachers and developed a curriculum with monthly sessions that would pull back the curtain on all the pieces that go into building a new school. It would be called Platt Builds.
Members of the design team, project management team and the building trades council would be invited to speak on their specialties. The curriculum would recycle every year, repeating the same core topics but with new students and often different presenters. Students would earn credits.
Staff would attend regularly. The year of learning would culminate with a recap that involved lunch, certificates of completion and branded team t shirts. Says Platt’s College and Career Coordinator, Abby Marcantonio, “I can’t say enough about how that program opened our kids’ eyes and gave them an outstanding educational opportunity.”
After Platt the program broadened its name to O&G Builds. In the six years the program has been running, O&G Builds has been rolled out and well received at schools ranging from elementary school through high school, led by project teams who are enthused to share and see students’ horizons open up.
At Shepaug Valley School where O&G Builds ran from January to May of 2019, Special Education Teacher Jim McDonough was especially pleased at O&G Build’s influence on teens who were unsure what their work futures could look like. (In a prior incarnation, McDonough had worked in construction and has a real affinity for the program.) “It showed them that there are good career and lifestyle options in the trades. You could see the evolution of their thinking. They were starting to see options and feeling validated and respected.” Tim Chan, Project Manager at Shepaug, agrees: “It was great to connect with the students, see them engage with the program and see teachers excited at the kids’ interest.”
David Mierzejewski, who left Platt to become an Assistant Principal at the Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Middletown, jumped at the opportunity for O&G Builds to be run at his school as it undergoes major construction. “It’s awesome. I love it,” he says. “We wanted the kids, as they’re thinking about high school next year and their futures, to see these options. I wish I knew more about the options when I went to school.”
Superintendent Brian Pracuta at Wilson relates. He was a teen who took the trade school route. He now runs projects in the field. “Some of these kids are really embracing construction, asking lots of good questions when we meet. It’s really a crossroads for them.” O&G Builds opens vistas and helps point the way.
O&G Builds has been recognized with several community service and educational excellence awards.