Central Heights fifth-graders put skills to test to build house

Rick Wagner • Sep 27, 2012 at 4:23 AM

KINGSPORT — Fifth-graders from Central Heights Elementary became house builders Wednesday. They had help from seventh-graders from Innovation Academy of Northeast Tennessee and a Franklin, Tenn., carpenter with dyslexia.

The event held in the gym of Innovation Academy — a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) platform school operated jointly by the Kingsport and Sullivan County school systems — was an “If I Had a Hammer” build overseen by carpenter Perry Wi l s o n .

The idea of the 20-year-old program, in which 500,000 students have participated nationwide, is to help students learn the practical application of math and teamwork.

“They’re not going to have a teacher today. They’re going to have a boss,” Wilson said before the build. “If they don’t listen and work together, they could get fired.”

He later told the students that teachers will work with students patiently, but in the workplace bosses usually can’t be that understanding or patient.

But nobody was fired Wednesday as the group of 24 fifth-graders from Central Heights and 19 seventh-grade helpers from Innovation Academy built the roughly 8-foot-by-10-foot house with help from Perry, Eastman Chemical Co. education manager Tonya Foreman, and Nicole Austin of the Kingsport Area Chamber of Commerce.

The students’ tools included hammers, safety glasses, screw guns and measuring tapes, with some mini math and measuring lessons along the way. They also learned about floor joists and other parts of a house. “This is about all of us,” Wilson said, pointing out that competitors Lowe’s and Home Depot both support the program. Students wore nail aprons that were half from one retailer, half from the other.

Innovation Academy Principal Sandy Watkins said seventh-graders from the grades 6-7 school were chosen as helpers based on essays they wrote. Mikayleigh Mounger, 12, read her essay aloud, in it saying she believed the event would help her as she struggles with fractions and would teach her life lessons.

As Central Heights students, teachers and Principal Jeff Hickam arrived, the 1980 song “Celebration” by Kool & the Gang played, and the entire student body of Innovation Academy cheered and clapped.

Hickam said the event was a reward for the students for Central Heights being a Tennessee Reward School for scoring in the top 5 percent statewide in Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP) test results for 2012. He said that was an especially good feat since about 70 percent of the students at the school are eligible for free or reduced price cafeteria meals.

“It is almost awe-inspiring to listen to the football game-like atmosphere in this building,” said Sullivan County Director of Schools Jubal Yennie, whom Watkins credited with jump-starting the joint application for federal funds that helped make Innovation Academy possible.

Also attending the building kickoff were Sullivan County Board of Education member Randall Jones, county BOE Vice Chairman Jack Bales and Kingsport Superintendent Lyle Ailshie, as well as STEM coaches from the county and other employees of both systems.

The structure will be taken apart and then moved to Northeast State Community College to be built and rebuilt by other students, while another “hammer house” will be built at Ketron Elementary in Bloomingdale and end up as the reading area in the new library there if it will fit, Ketron co-Principal Wendell Smith said.

Student builders had the chance to use practical applications of fractions, measurements and geometry, as well as learn how to use and carry hammers and other tools safely.

“I had all these learning issues growing up. I couldn’t read until I was an adult,” said Wilson, who found out he was dyslexic and thus terrible at math. “As soon as I started applying math, I could do it.”

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