HS project provides unique learning opportunities for students

For Penn Manor High School students and staff, the massive construction project that began this past year brought parking restrictions, relocated classrooms and the constant din of heavy equipment just outside classrooms and offices.

But it also provided opportunities for students to learn about real-world math, engineering and design applications, study the life cycle of trees and explore career options in the construction field.

Partnership for learning

A partnership between Warfel Construction, the project manager, and the district resulted in several learning opportunities.

Math students learned how construction workers and surveyors use trigonometry and algebra in the field. Agricultural Mechanics students learned about the inner workings of a temporary ag shop as it was being built, and Plant Science students got to examine the rings of a tree cut down as part of the project.

Warfel Construction also established an internship that enabled one student to attend weekly construction meetings and visit on-site work, and groups of students got to tour the construction site and learn about the excavating, plumbing, drywall, technology and other trades represented by the workers they observed.

“When there’s a construction site in your back yard, you take advantage of the valuable career exploration for your students,” said Michelle Wagner, support and transition teacher at the school. “This fits into our goal of transition and preparing students for life after high school.”

Experts in the classroom

Staff from Warfel and Boro Electric, the electrical contractor on the project, visited three of math teacher Gary Luft’s classes in April and May to talk about their roles in the project.

“The students were given an overview and the phasing of the total construction project, as well as an explanation of what was currently being done on site,” Luft said. “I think it was very beneficial for the students to hear from the experts in the field.”

Meagan Slates’ Plant Science class got to examine the remains of a giant tree cut down during construction as part of a “Tree of Life” lab.

Students counted the tree stump’s growth rings to estimate the age of the tree — more than 50 years — and then compared it to the tree they were studying in the lab.

“What is cool about this lab is that we had climate data from the Pacific Northwest that dated back to 1960 from the original lab we were working on, so we were able to use that data and the tree that was removed to estimate the growing season here in Pennsylvania,” Slates said.

“This was a great experience, and I’m so thankful that Warfel and the Penn Manor administration were so open to sharing these experiences with our students.”

‘Demystifying’ the industry

The interactions were designed to help “demystify” the construction field, said Warfel project engineer Kevin McGuire.

“We want to involve the students and then turn that into a discussion about what they plan to do in the future. What’s going on outside the window, and how could that involve you?” he said. “We need more conversations like that in the education field.”

Penn Manor is partnering with Warfel to host a “Careers in Construction Exploration Event” that includes a tour of the project and information about construction careers on Sept. 14. Learn more here.

McGuire said he hopes to continue the collaboration as the construction project progresses over the next two years.

Many thanks to Warfel and the Penn Manor teachers who helped make these unique opportunities possible for our students!