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Taking their homework literally

Joe Arneson, a Farmington High School student, measures out sheet rock for a closet.2 / 2

The most successful people figure out a way to make money doing what they love. Not everybody loves reading or crunching numbers, so for some kids getting through high school and going on to college just isn't an appealing option.

Paul Landwehr knows plenty of those kids. He works them every day. As a teacher with Intermediate School District 917 he tries to direct them to a positive future without cramming more of the same down their throats.

It's not that Landwehr doesn't want them to all go to college. He just wants them to know that if that's not for them there are other options. Landwehr is the Dakota County Secondary Technical Center Construction Trades instructor.

Each year his students build a house from floor to roof. Through the process the students gain practical construction knowledge. They also get to blow off a little steam working with their hands.

"I like pounding nails," said Allen DuBois, a junior from Farmington High School.

DuBois said he has enjoyed building the house and is considering going into construction after high school like several of his family members.

The students in Landwehr's class are building a 1,400 sq. ft. house that will become someone's home eventually. After passing state inspection, sometime in the spring, the school district will put the house up for silent auction. The highest bidder will win the three bedroom, two bathroom home.

Last year the house, which had a similar floor plan to the current project, went for $53,000. The winner has to move the house to its final location.

In the meantime the house is an educational tool for the 40 or so students who take the ISD 917 course. Construction on the house starts in September. The first month or so is dedicated to safety training, then in early October the 40 or so students who come from schools all over the metro, including Rosemount, Farmington and Hastings start building from the floor and work their way up.

"We try to get the roof up before the snow flies," said program tutor Deanna Foss. Foss, who has a background in drafting, has worked with the program for seven years. She enjoys working with her hands and getting to know the students.

The house sits on the East end of the Dakota County Technical College Campus. Students get bused to DCTC for 90 minutes a day. Three shifts of students come throughout the day. Landwehr said the class is 90 percent hands on and 10 percent classroom work.

"It's a wonderful program and these kids get a lot out of it," said Landwehr on a relatively warm January afternoon.

As he talks, the students put up sheet rock. Besides their young age the crew look and sound like any other construction crew. They talk about measurements, work together to put up materials and occasionally drop an F-bomb when it becomes apparent they forgot to cut out a hole for a light fixture.

The kids come from all walks of life. Many of them don't do well in a traditional school setting, Landwehr said, but thrive in the more hands-on setting.

Landwehr said the class serves students well who plan on going into trades. But he said the class is good for any student because they will learn skills they can take into adult life that will come in handy if they ever own a home or need a job.

Krystal Warner, the only girl in the class, wants to go into interior design after high school. The senior said building the house has provided her with valuable insight into the construction process. She said she signed up for the class because it was the only thing offered by her high school that remotely resembled the field she wants to go into.

Working on the house has reassured her that interior design is what she wants to do. Currently Warner is working with her school counselor to apply to colleges with design programs. She is considering DCTC.

Landwehr said Warner's story is pretty common. After working on the house he said he has had a number of students go onto enroll at DCTC.

DCTC and the Dakota County Secondary Technical Center have a good working relationship. Besides sharing space on the DCTC campus Landwehr said the programs have worked together to benefit each other.

For example, he said DCTC students in the electric program install the wiring in the house, saving the program thousands of a dollars. A DCTC drafting student drew up the floor plan for the house.

DCTC's architecture, electric and masonry programs will work with the ISD 917 to make the 2010 house green. Additionally Landwehr said Dakota Electric has committed itself to working with the program to provide materials and resources to the green goal.

"It should be a really neat thing," said Landwehr.

To see pictures of last year's house or to learn more about the Dakota County Secondary Technical Center program visit