- Associated Press - Sunday, November 15, 2015

SOUTH SIOUX CITY, Neb. (AP) - In time, Rodney Rogers said, he and his fellow classmates will see the picnic tables they built at city parks and share a sense of pride that they gave back to their community.

Rogers and 15 other students at the Gateway to Learning school recently began building the tables — more than a dozen and counting — as part of their lessons and as a service project for the city.

Gateway to Learning is an alternative high school started in 2004. It has grown to more than 100 students.

Tom Luxford, assistant principal at South Sioux City High School, said the school helps those who need to finish their credits to graduate and have had problems in a traditional classroom setting.

Some students are there because they learn better through one-on-one teaching, while others have to work full-time jobs to provide for their families, he said.

“Students in bigger schools, sometimes it’s too much for them both academically and socially. Most of our students are here to finish their educations,” Luxford said. “About 70 percent of our 100 students are seniors. And we wouldn’t give them up for the world.”

With 10 six-foot tables done, 10 more eight-foot tables are next.

The project began earlier this year after the class began building two tables for the school’s use. Teacher Keith Hogan said Gene Moffitt, the park director for South Sioux City, happened by during construction and came up with the idea for the students to build the tables for city parks.

South Sioux City provided the lumber.

The curriculum for Hogan’s class includes not only hands-on training with power tools, but skills like resume writing, filling out job applications and interviewing for jobs.

While building an eight-foot picnic table is a challenge on its own, the class had a team-building exercise on top of that. They were allowed only one tape measure for their first table, so they had to communicate effectively if they were going to complete the project.

“Everyone had to be on the same page,” Hogan said. “Learning the importance of communication, that’s something they carry with them for the rest of their lives. That’s universal.”

On day, the students were sanding tables 12 and 13. Nineteen-year-old Rogers, a senior at Gateway for more than a year, said he’s learned at a better rate in that time due to more one-on-one teaching.

“Everything, from social skills to more real-world stuff,” Rogers said. “I feel like the expectations are much more realistic here. I’m not just waking up and coming to class — it feels rewarding.”

Rogers hopes one day to be a truck driver. Currently he works building cabinets, so when he heard he was going to help build picnic tables, he was overjoyed, he said.

“It was exciting. It’s good to know we’re doing something that matters,” he said.

Fellow student, 18-year-old Adolfo Gonzalez, said he didn’t learn well in traditional high school classrooms. Now, he has hopes of being a businessman.

“This here is more real life, grasping on knowledge that entwines with real-life experience,” he said. “I want to be independent, more than book smart.”

The Sioux City Journal (https://bit.ly/1WONpPX ) reports that During the Oct. 12 South Sioux City Council meeting, the students were thanked by the city for their efforts.

Councilman Jason Bowman told the students that there is no shame in a career in trades and working with one’s hands.

Bowman, an electrician for more than 20 years, said the world needs pipefitters, carpenters, and, of course, electricians.

“We don’t build a lot of things in America, we import almost everything, except homes,” Bowman said. “We’ll always need builders, and doing things like what (the students) are doing, they can take pride in it. They built something. They created something.”

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Information from: Sioux City Journal, https://www.siouxcityjournal.com


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