Not all high school students can receive job training and class credit while earning a little extra money on the side. For a group of Fairfax County students, that’s just what FATE provides.
“FATE is in a nonprofit partnership with Fairfax County Public Schools to help offer opportunities to students they could not facilitate with their technology programs,” said Stan Stewart, president of the Foundation for Applied Technical Education, Inc.
In the FATE program, students spend between 120 and 180 minutes a few days a week at a work site, learning how to build homes and gaining construction skills. It’s a program for which the students applied in order to see if the construction industry was an option for their future.
“Students come and work and build homes. They earn skills that can help them in their future,” Stewart said.
ON THURSDAY, June 11, representatives from Fairfax County Public Schools, the School Board and FATE gathered to break ground on a new work site, at which 18 single-family homes will be built over the next 18 to 20 years.
“This area is already Fairfax County property,” Stewart said. A soccer field, currently in use by the Springfield Youth Soccer program, takes up half of the site, but since that half will be developed later, the field will remain for at least another decade.
The project has been divided up into two parts of nine lots each, with a home expected to be built every year to year and a half, Stewart said. The last home of an earlier project in McLean was finished earlier this school year.
Like any other home building plan, the property had to go through the regular zoning and planning process, Stewart said, gaining county approval before the next step could be taken.
“We’re really excited to get started on this,” he said. “We were at the McLean site for 20 years. We’ve built a total of 16 homes since we first broke ground in 1972.”
Between 1,500 and 2,500 students have received job training from FATE, said Chad Maclin, one of FATE’s teachers. One of FATE’s board members, David Foster, went through the program when he was a high school student and now runs a construction company in Falls Church.
“This gives students the opportunity to experience a career firsthand,” Maclin said. In some cases, companies that are subcontracted in to install electricity or plumbing will look to the students to recruit future employees, he said.
Interested students can also work during the summer, from 6 a.m. until noon five days a week, for four or five weeks.
LOOKING TO THE future, Fairfax County School Superintendent Dr. Jack Dale said he’d like to bring a group of kindergarten students out on a field trip to the work site in the fall.
“Eleven years later, those kids could be out here working for you,” Dale said to FATE’s instructors “For you students, 18 years from now, you could be buying one of these homes. Actually, we could take a down payment now if you’d like,” he laughed.
On a typical day, students sign in and receive job assignments, said Rubio. “We horse around and have a good time too, but I make sure they get their jobs done.”
Students have the option of arriving at the site early or staying late, he said, and any time they spend at the site is rewarded with some monetary compensation.
He sees the impact working on a house has on his students, some of whom came to him two years ago not knowing what they wanted to do or whether they wanted to go to college.
“I’m a parent too, so I’m on them all the time” about homework and their future goals, Rubio said. “This program helps them find something they like.”
Dillon Price has been working with his father’s construction company for a few years before joining FATE.
“I was surprised by how close the houses [FATE has built] are to my house,” said Price, a Langley High School student. “I didn’t realize they were built by students. I was also surprised by how much work we actually did on the houses.”
His classmate Jackson Kibler of Oakton agreed, adding that the students who worked on the last house in McLean installed the electricity in the basement of that house after “apprenticing” with an electrician in the upper two floors of the house.
“When the heating and air conditioning company came, they gave us a mini-training on how to install and fit the lines together,” he said.
Bobby Davis, also from Oakton, said he’s going to “miss being able to work with my friends and learn from them” after he graduates later this month. “We’ll miss Mr. Rubio too, he’s taught us so much.”
One of the few girls who have enrolled in the program, Kirsten Halik of Madison High School said she’s planning to pursue architecture while attending Virginia Tech in the fall. She received a $5,000 scholarship from the Custom Builders Council, one of FATE’s partners in the construction industry.
“I love the hands-on stuff,” she said. “All I had before joining FATE was in the classroom, so this was a good experience to have.”
Halik said she helped build a deck and select cabinets for the house in McLean when she was involved with FATE last summer.
She credited her work with FATE as helping her realize that she wanted to pursue a career in architecture.