MVRHS vocational students learn by doing

A group of Martha’s Vineyard high school students constructed a new pergola at the main entrance of the school.

MVRHS students, from left, Patryck Nascimento, Steven Brown, and Jeremey Mercier pose in front the pergola they helped construct. — Photo by Michael Cummo

After more than six months of planning, designing, and building, students and faculty at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School are set to finish construction this week on a pergola outside the main entrance to the school.

The project is the brainchild of the Career Technical Education (CTE) department faculty. The department, which helps prepare students for work in the trades, includes the Health Assisting, Culinary Arts, Building Trades, Automotive Technology, and Horticulture programs. Building Trades Instructor William Seaborne and his students are responsible for building the pergola. John Wojtkielo of the Horticulture program and his pupils will assist with the landscaping.

The pergola is poised to be the capstone of an already impressive list of projects undertaken by students in Building Trades over the course of this school year, including the construction of fences near the school’s bus parking lot and a major refurbishment of the horticulture area. The project is intended to highlight the talents and skills of the CTE students.

“We want to showcase what the CTE students do for the campus and for the towns,” CTE Department Chairman Ty Hobbs said. “These students have been doing a lot of community work on campus, but it has not been very prominent. We wanted to do something that would be unmistakable, to be done by the Horticultural and the Building Trades departments.”

Planning for the pergola began in the winter. Students in Ms. Elsbeth Todd’s architecture class proposed a variety of designs at the onset. After careful deliberation, earlier this spring the faculty gave the green light to the design of Patryck Nascimento, a member of the 2015 graduating class.

Patryck then carefully refined his prototype using SketchUp, a 3D modeling computer program. Once the design was deemed acceptable, the CTE department proceeded to obtain a building permit from the town of Oak Bluffs and place an order for the wood needed to build the pergola.

Obtaining the wood, however, proved to be a challenge. A delay in the project resulted from the fact that the wood in question had to be specially ordered off-Island, and the materials did not arrive at the high school until late May.

“The delay has put a lot of pressure on Mr. Seaborne and his students to get this done before the year ends,” Mr. Hobbs said.

After the lumber arrived at the high school, construction took place within the confines of the school’s woodshop for the better part of a month, a process which included cutting and sanding the wood. Outdoor assembly began on June 16.

Though construction and assembly have run smoothly, Mr. Seaborne has had to deal with a dwindling labor supply in recent weeks, given that many of the seniors involved in the project graduated. Nevertheless, Mr. Seaborne remains unfazed, and is confident that the project will be completed before the school year ends on June 29.

“It’s a typical construction project,” he explained. “The design and materials took a little longer than we thought, but once we got past those hurdles, it’s been straightforward.”

Students have enjoyed the challenges of working on a project of this magnitude. Patryck, along with several other seniors, elected to return to the high school after graduation and see the project to its completion.

“Working on this project has been a great experience,” Patryck said. “Even though I have used SketchUp since I was in grade school, I learned a bunch of new tricks I never knew.”

Patryck said that he will be working on the Island this summer as a carpenter to earn money so he can attend architecture school in the future.

“I learned a lot from this project, and though I was never the best student academically speaking, I have this project as my legacy at MVRHS,” Patryck said in an email to The Times.

The pergola project has come in the midst of major changes within the CTE department, including the addition of a maritime science program that will be offered for the first time beginning next year.

The program will be the first of its kind among high schools in Massachusetts, and school administrators are currently in the process of getting an outline approved by the state.

Both the pergola project and the maritime program reflect the department’s goal of equipping its students with the knowledge to adapt to an ever-changing job market. Mr. Hobbs explained that the department cycles through a diverse list of projects in order to efficiently teach the students a wide range of skills.

“We take each job independently, on a case-by-case basis, as long as it’s educationally viable for the students,” he said.

And the department’s efforts appear to be paying off. Each one of Mr. Seaborne’s graduating seniors this year has already found work in the trades. Many plan to attend college as well.

Mr. Hobbs said he has been impressed by the accomplishments of the students over the course of this year. The pergola was the capstone.

“I did not expect it to look as beautiful as it does now,” he said. “I’m stunned.”