Students build houses at Mid-Maine Tech.
The Mid-Maine Technical Center, a vocational institute attached to Waterville Senior High School, offers a very hands-on approach to learning: students learn how to construct a house, which they then sell for material costs.
Peter Hallen lives in a house built by 16-year olds.
Over the course of the school year, the construction technology and electrical technology students at the Mid-Maine Technical Center (MMTC) in Waterville learn their trade via a very hands-on approach. Students spend the school year building a house that they sell upon completion for the cost of materials, showing off a solid finished product as evidence of their refined practical skills.
Hallen said he was at first skeptical about this approach, but after several years as the Student Services Coordinator at the MMTC, he gained confidence in the students’ product and decided he wanted a house of his own. “It took me a few years,” he said. “But I came around.”
The MMTC is the vocational and technical institute attached to the Waterville Senior High School on Brooklyn Avenue, but it serves students from the four area schools of Lawrence, Messalonskee, Winslow and Waterville.
The MMTC has 13 different programs ranging from culinary arts to construction technology, from emergency services and medical services to precision machining as well as automotive collision repair. It offers its students 46 certifications, and 72 percent of MMTC students have earned National or State Skill certifications in their course of study. In addition, students at the Center take advantage of the chance to earn credits at local community colleges before they even receive their high school diploma.
At the high schools, MMTC courses function as electives, but the Center has partnered with the schools to generate integrated academic credits that count towards the courses a student needs for graduation.
Hallen said that many students walk away from the MMTC with concrete skills and certifications that qualify them for many jobs.
The MMTC operates in morning and afternoon blocks, and students from neighboring schools are bussed in for a either a morning or afternoon of vigorous hands-on work before returning to typical classrooms for the other half of the school day.
The students build a three-bedroom, two-bathroom ranch house—“as economical as possible,” Hallen said—which they construct to be modular on site at the high school. On June 13, as the school year wraps up, the house will be ready to be split down the middle, its roof folding down on hinges, transported on a flatbed and put together again at the plot of its new home.
This house-building project has taken place annually for the past ten years or so under the supervision of Mark Champagne, instructor for the construction technology program for the past 22 years. The only recent exception was a few years ago, when students in the program built a new office space for the MMTC instead.
David Lannon, 17, is a junior from Lawrence High School taking construction at the MMTC. Lannon is in his first year at the MMTC, where students generally come during their junior and senior years, and he is thinking about trying the electrical program during his senior year.
Right now, though, Lannon enjoys working on the house and sees the direct link between what he’s doing now and what he hopes to do in his future.
“My main goal is that I want to open a construction business,” he said. Lannon, who works in roofing over the summer, said he likes the construction program because he’s been able to experience new aspects of construction. “They give me experience with more than just roofing,” he said.
After he graduates, Lannon hopes to find a college that offers construction as a course.
“A Bachelor’s degree is not for everyone,” Hallen said, and the mark of a successful student at the MMTC is one who develops a goal-oriented plan for after his or her experience at the Center, whether it is to pursue higher education, a vocational or technical school or employment directly after graduation. “Our goal is when they leave...they reach their own definition of success and achievement.”
Given that the nature of the work students do is serious, even dangerous (think: high school students on a roof), the MMTC demands a very professional attitude from its students. Hallen and Champagne said that students respond incredibly well to the high demands placed on them. Beyond safety and classroom training, students must also undergo affirmative action and workplace training. “Expectations are clear and consistent,” Hallen said. “That’s the only way to get things done.”
“We don’t have a lot of disciplinary problems,” Hallen said, “probably because they’re busy and they can’t afford to fool around if they’re up an the roof.”
Lannon said, “I learned a lot” beyond even construction. “It’s taught me how to work in a group, and about leadership.”
Hallen said that students who worked on his house will occasionally drive by to show off their work. For Champagne, though, the best part is seeing the improvement from first-year to second-year construction students in their interior work. “What I get most out of is seeing what they’ve learned [and] how they’ve progressed, because they progress considerably,” he said.