HOUSTON — Seven months after the magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck Point Mackenzie in November of 2018, Alaskans are still rebuilding.

Students in the Mat-Su Borough School District are taking an active role in that ongoing cleanup. At Houston High School, 27 students from five different schools are building two portable classrooms that will help decrease the crowding that ensued when Houston High School welcomed in their middle school neighbors and became Houston Junior Senior High School in the second semester last year.

“I think it’s pretty cool how the school district offers this job during the summer to actually give kids the chance to get real life work experience and just get better, and they feel like they can use this on their applications or resumes for future jobs and I think it’s just really handy,” said Caleb Colegrove.

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Colegrove attends Wasilla High during the school year and is part of the summer crew that has been working for three weeks to build the two additional needed portables to reduce crowding at Houston Jr./Sr. Colegrove and his coworkers have learned skills in framing, carpentry, painting, vapor barriers and the atmosphere of working on a job site. The foremen of the crew are shop teachers in the MSBSD. Peter Kanz teaches welding at Redington, Randy Wolfe teaches shop at Mat-Su Career and Technical High School and Jason Currier is a middle school shop teacher at Houston.

“In a school class they don’t really teach this stuff, they just teach by the book curriculum that doesn’t really cover general stuff that would be on a job site,” Colegrove said.

Colegrove has not only learned trades, but creativity in carpentry during his summer job where he will not only earn a paycheck, but two elective credits as well. Colegrove said that his teachers have shown him more than one way to use various tools, fitting whatever need comes about on the job. As all different workers have different skills, they fill the roles needed to finish the job.

“Caleb over here he’s really experienced with this kind of thing and so he’s helping out a lot. Dax is not as experienced but he’s definitely learning fast and I think everyone’s getting an equal chance to learn quite a bit, and those who already know somewhat of what they’re doing, they’re still learning things and they teach others. It’s a win-win situation,” said Christopher Cummins.

Cummins attended Houston High School and is excited to see the portables when they are finished. Cummins has found a creative way around the problem that everyone on the job site has faced, the heat.

“I love passing tools,” Cummins said. “You get to stay in the shade and out of the heat a little bit.”

Each one of the student construction workers is outfitted with safety glasses, earplugs, and additional safety equipment. Most students wear protective footwear and gloves while working, and others paint the work that has already been put up. Each student worker is trained on a piece of equipment and certified prior to using that machine. Houston is again suffering at the hands of mother nature, as the high temperatures don’t appear to be letting up any time soon.

“They make us wear safety glasses like when we’re doing anything. They provide like facemasks and stuff like that and ear plugs because they don’t want you damaging any of that and they also tell us to wear sunscreen because if you’re in 80 degree heat that’s not good,” said Justine DuBuse.

Though small in stature, DuBuse is a master of her craft.

As one of 11 students working the portables crew, DuBuse is not only building the portables so that her high school will be less crowded, but so that her little brother’s middle school classes held in the portables will be less crowded. Though DuBuse came in with prior experience, she had never been a part of any project this large before. DuBuse has learned how to lay out walls, put up vapor barriers, use nail guns, drills, and is proud that she can accurately identify a paddle bit.

“My favorite thing that I’ve done so far is like probably today,” DuBuse said. “I like cut literally all of the blocks for the trusses in between each truss which is a big accomplishment, it’s like 40 blocks.”

Along with building the portable classrooms, the summer crew at Houston has done some tidying up. They leveled the existing 13 portables that had been moved following the winter break, and have rebuilt ramps to each portable to make them American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant. After the Nov. 30, 2018, earthquake, Houston Middle School was deemed unsafe for students. After assessments from insurance companies, the fate of Houston Middle School is as yet to be determined if it will be demolished and rebuilt or repaired. Meanwhile, the first portable got it’s trusses on Friday and is at 60 percent complete. The second portable has just gotten off the ground, and will be built by the 27 student workers and their teachers throughout the rest of the summer.

“They’re putting blood sweat and tears into this thing in some instances,” Kanz said. “They’ve actually got some pride in it and I can definitely see some of these high school kids next year when middle school kids start tearing things up, hey knock that off man, I painted that, stop tearing it up, I sweat over that.”

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