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A Helping Hand: Amador High School Students Build a Playhouse At The state Capitol

By Jenifer Gee

Building a children´s playhouse in about eight hours using only basic tools and in front of the state Capitol building, which means a surprise appearance from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, may sound daunting to some.

But not for 11 Amador High School agricultural construction students.

At 7 a.m. Aug. 30, the group started building a playhouse scheduled for delivery at around 6 p.m. to children at the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Center in Yolo County. Despite the fact that “it got really hot outside,” as senior Catherine Petretti, 17, put it, the students finished the playhouse about three hours early.

The students, two teachers and one parent traveled to the California Capitol in Sacramento, where they were joined by two schools, to build the playhouse as part of a state campaign to increase career technical education in public schools.

“They worked hard, my kids did,” said Steve Boyes, agricultural instructor for Amador High School, who accompanied the children to Sacramento with fellow agricultural instructor Carli Dutschke. “They didn´t take breaks and they hardly had time for lunch. They stayed on it until it was done and I couldn´t be more proud of that group. I took just a bunch of good kids.”

The 8-by-6 playhouse has a railed porch and “it was really quite cute when we were done and I don´t usually use the word cute,” Boyes said. Sophomore Paul Gianandrea, 14, attributed the group´s speedy construction time to the team-like attitude of the students. “We got it done three hours before deadline because we worked together,” Gianandrea said. “We understand how to be a team so when one kid needs help we all help him and make sure he´s got his part done.”

The day-long building project was part of the California Coalition for Construction in the Classroom´s second annual Career Tech Student Demonstrations at the state capitol, which included 150 California students from three construction programs, according to a news release from the coalition. The day was co-hosted by the coalition and state Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-Santa Barbara, and students from the Los Angeles Unified School District, some from North Hollywood High School and Amador students worked on the playhouse.

About mid-morning Schwarzenegger stopped by to praise the students for their hard work and signed a few hammers. “He came across the barrier, got right up in the building and had a conversation with them,” Boyes said. “He didn´t act like he was unapproachable.”

Boyes said he chose half of the 11 students because of their building skills and the other half volunteered because the cause interested them. “I like to build and since it was for kids with domestic violence I was pretty excited to do it,” said senior Andrew Cory, 17. “The highlight of the trip for me was getting a picture with one of the kids that was going to play in it.”

Boyes said the tools used to put together the 2-by-4 and 2-by-6 boards, siding and roofing materials included hammers, two Skil Saws, a miter saw, a level and a chalk line. “We don´t have anything fancy,” Boyes said. “I was surprised they cut that straight with a Skil Saw but they did and they cut about 10 pieces.”

But for many of Boyes´ students, the use of limited tools in the high school´s shop and at the playhouse construction site wasn´t a problem. “It was pretty easy because we build a lot harder stuff here at school,” said Jake Morgenstern, a 15-year-old sophomore.

Boyes said another highlight of the playhouse is the door, complete with siding and trim, built by some of the girls he brought to Sacramento. “I was very proud of the young ladies I took,” Boyes said. “They did a really good job.” Petretti said, “The highlight of the trip was building a door from scratch with my best friend. That was fun.”

For senior Jessica Clark, 17, making the door gave a her a sense of accomplishment. “It took us quite a while,” Clark said. “We messed it up a couple of times and had to redo it three different times but it turned out really good. When we were finished, everyone said how good of a job we did and how hard we were working on it.

“It didn´t really matter that we messed up because we got it finished and we did it perfectly,” Clark said.

As a thank you, California State Career Technical Education and Pacific Coast Building Products gave $1,000 to Amador High School. The donation might be used to buy a miter or table saw as well as small construction tools.

Besides building the playhouse and competing in the annual Sacramento Builder´s Exchange competition, students build storage sheds, about 8 feet by 12 feet and 8 feet by 8 feet, and chicken houses during class time. The sheds and chicken houses are sold to the public and shed prices range between $1,000 to $2,000. Last year students built about 25 sheds and the money made from the sales is the only money that funds the class.

“Anybody who needs a storage building – we can build them and we´re always looking for new projects and we´re always looking for discounts on lumber,” Boyes said. “We get donations occasionally but not a lot so we buy everything just like a regular person would.”

Reprinted with permission Amador Ledger Dispatch