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Hands on: House-building program breeds confidence, success

There's something to be said for hands-on experience. Something big.

Just ask Dakota County Secondary Technical Center instructor Paul

Landwehr or any of the students in his construction trades class.

For the past several years, DCSTC, located on the campus of Dakota

County Technical College, has been offering high school students from

around the south metro opportunities to get hands-on experience.

Landwehr's construction trades class, for example, is referred to as

the HAWK class, an acronym for High Schoolers Achieving Workable


And that's exactly what it is.

This semester, there are more than 20 high school students, a few of

whom are from Rosemount, who have spent the semester as hands-on as

you can get. They have been building a ranch-style house that will be

finished and auctioned off in the weeks ahead.

According to Landwehr, many of the students working on the house in

his construction trades HAWK class have found it difficult to excel

in the traditional classroom setting. But when given the opportunity

to learn how they learn best - hands on - their confidence goes up

and the results are positive.

Landwehr would know. He himself benefitted from such programs when he

was in school. And since taking over the construction trades home

construction course four years ago, he has seen nearly 100 high

school students make "massive" strides. Many of them have gone on to

sign on with unions and construction trades jobs shortly after high

school graduation. Much of that success can be directly linked to the

amount of hands on experience the house building HAWK program affords


Landwehr is not alone in that belief. DCSTC dean John Palmer has

backed the program from the beginning. He is still singing its


"More and more of these kinds of programs are being shut down and

that's a shame. If institutions would just teach to kids' strengths

rather than trying to work around their weaknesses, students would be

a lot better off."

That is the philosophy the home building HAWK class at DCSTC follows.

The home being built by students this year will be auctioned off in

the coming months. And this isn't a cookie cutter home. It's a

ranch-style home with three bedrooms and two baths. Students have

constructed it with oak cabinets and trim, six-panel doors, recessed

lighting and Frank Lloyd Wright-style indirect lighting, laminate

flooring and carpet and vaulted ceilings.

Each day, students return to work on the house. Right now, they are

putting on the finishing touches. They've tiled the bathrooms, made

modifications to the original plans, installed windows, erected

walls, hung sheet rock and everything else that goes into the

construction of a home.

That hands-on experience is something Landwehr said these students

needed. They would not have gotten the same thing out of a book or

behind-the-desk lesson plan. They gained a significant amount of

confidence and skills they will need to succeed in the professional


Several students have again signed on with construction companies or

will go on to receive further training in various areas of the

construction trades business.

"You get these kids out from behind a desk where they just don't feel

comfortable, and look what they can do. Look what they are capable

of. You just have to give them that opportunity. Now they have the

skills they are going to need to go on. Now they have some hope and

some confidence."

The homes are constructed on the DCTC campus and then transported to

a permanent foundation by the individual or family who bids highest.

Past homes are now located in area communities, such as Coates,

Randolph, Castle Rock and more.

For more information on the auction, call Landwehr at 651-423-8347.