Building Futures thinks outside the box to educate teens

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Thinking outside the box when it comes to his education is what attracted Cochrane teen Ben McGregor to an innovative program that will give him the opportunity to help construct two new homes by the end of his Grade 10 school year.

“We’re part of the neighbourhood,” said the 15-year-old Bow Valley High School student. “We’re building houses for the community, and to think that people will be living in here … This community is awesome.”

McGregor is one of 28 students from Bow Valley and Cochrane high schools to participate in this year’s Rocky View Schools Building Futures program – a unique, off-campus option for youth in Grade 10 that combines traditional subjects like math and science with skills-based, hands-on learning.

The experiential concept was created by Airdrie educators Greg Rankin and Jarett Hooper five years ago and has since attracted the likes of provincial Education Minister David Eggen, who visited the Ravenstern Point site in the spring. The founders were also honoured with Alberta’s Provincial Excellence in Teaching Award and recently shared their story at the TEDxYYC speakers’ event in Calgary.

In Cochrane, Building Futures is kicking off its fourth year, in partnership with Kingsmith Homes. Youth will work with Kingsmith to construct two houses in the Willows from the ground up.

Teacher Matt Chomistek said he’s thrilled to get to educate and inspire youth in such an inventive way.

“There are a lot of cool innovative ideas …starting to change those traditional practices in education. What’s happening here is having an impact far outside,” said Chomistek. “The idea of actually working on something real and authentic is hugely important to students.”

This year, teacher Darryl Korody has come on board as the second teacher mentor for the group. Chomistek said Korody’s years of experience as coach of the Bow Valley Bobcats football team gives him great value for a program of this type.

“He knows a ton about team building and coaching and character development,” said Chomistek of Korody. “Coaching football, you have to have that group cohesiveness to make it work.”

Korody said he’s excited to use both his skills from the football field – and the foundations of his classroom knowledge of math and science – and apply it in the real world.

“This is a place where we can go and actually gather data. Now we get to use that in application. There (are) a lot of things that we’ll mould together,” he said.

“I’m still doing the same curriculum … it’s just in a different structure. It’s such a natural fit.”

This week, kids spent time getting to know their builder mentors, their teachers, and each other, as well as get comfortable in their new digs – while the program is forward thinking, the classroom itself is a throwback to another era with its one-room approach.

“We’ve got a wee garage outside of the skills area … It’s one big room – a couple of whiteboards and desks,” said McGregor. “It’s quite small. It’s good.”

McGregor and his family moved from Scotland to Alberta in 2013, and while his dad is a carpenter, he said his building experience is so far limited. He’s thrilled he will walk away in just a few months with such a huge accomplishment under his belt.

“I’ve helped (my dad) with the odd putting benches together or fixing something up … but nothing as big as a house,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

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