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March 6, 2021

Habit for Humanity, Rowan-Salisbury Schools forge ahead on model partnership

SALISBURY — If you drove down Union Heights Boulevard on Thursday, you probably noticed one of the busiest residential construction sites in Rowan County.

Out front, students from North Rowan High School were measuring, cutting and installing the columns for a front porch.

Inside, members of a woodworking class from Carson High were making marks, drilling holes and installing kitchen cabinetry they had built back at school.

On the back of the house, West Rowan High students were putting up soffit (the horizontal underside of an eave) and siding, while other classmates worked next door finishing the brick foundation on another house.

In all, 32 students from Carson, North and West were putting their classroom learning to real-world tests as they continued building homes for Habitat for Humanity.

On other days of the week, you are just as likely to find students from East Rowan and South Rowan high schools on the site.

What’s the biggest takeaway for many of the students?

“Just knowing we’re actually going to help people — and we had our hands on it,” said Mira White, a West Rowan High senior.

It’s all reflective of a new partnership between Rowan-Salisbury Schools’ career and technical education program and Habitat for Humanity of Rowan County that seems to be a winning formula for all parties concerned.

“Our relationship exists for no other reason than to solve the need of students and families,” said Coleman Emerson, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Rowan. “We act solely for their benefit. We are dedicated exclusively to student education and housing for low-income families.”

The partnership also could serve as a model for Habitat for Humanity and high school vocational programs elsewhere.

Emerson, for one, thinks what’s happening in Rowan could represent an eventual movement nationwide.

“I’m really in awe,” said Holly Pore, director for Rowan-Salisbury Schools’ CTE program. “I think it’s going to be an easy model for people to sell.”

Pore said she is thrilled for what the partnership means to students, allowing them to take their knowledge and skills learned in the classroom and apply them in the real world.

But working on Habitat for Humanity houses also shows them the impact their work has on families and the community, Pore said.

“That’s huge — to see that impact in progress,” she said. “This experience stretches beyond any work-based applications. It takes it a step forward. It makes it so real, and they’re able to see it.”

Habitat plans to build nine houses on Union Heights Boulevard. The students have done much of the work on No. 3, which is getting closer each day to being finished.

Masonry classes at East Rowan, South Rowan and West Rowan also have laid the foundation on No. 4.

Emerson and the schools and Habitat have plans to build five more homes on the same side of the street. Emerson doesn’t expect the student construction to stop there.

Habitat owns properties for potential homes in other parts of the county, and Emerson anticipates the students will be involved in building many of them.

“These kids are working fast and correctly,” Emerson said Thursday, watching all the activity. “There’s no fluff going on.”

Emerson emphasizes the students’ participation does not mean Habitat no longer will be building houses with the help of volunteers from churches, civic organizations, businesses and other groups.

“Anybody, anytime, we’ll hook you up,” Emerson said. “We try to involve everybody, everywhere.”

But Emerson can’t hide his enthusiasm for the Habitat-schools model. He sees it as a grassroots effort — one filled with local relationships and one that has attainable goals.

Habitat provides the building sites, the homeowner families, building materials, tools as needed, additional volunteers as needed and on-site supervision.

The CTE programs at the high schools provide the student workers, their transportation to the sites, on-site teacher supervision and instruction, tools as needed and all the appropriate signing off on forms and documentation.

“Every participant on every level absolutely loves what is happening,” Emerson said.

Derek Overcash, carpentry instructor at West Rowan High, backs that up.

“My kids can’t wait to come here,” Overcash said Thursday, as his students were spending the whole school day on site. Other days, they might work here from midmorning to early afternoon — it just depends on scheduling and classwork obligations.

“A lot of stuff we teach (in class), they get hands-on application here,” Overcash said.

But the students also appreciate that the homes they’re building are for families who will be helped greatly with a Habitat house.

“They’re more stoked about that than anything else,” Overcash said.

White and Mercedes Sidden, a junior at West, said a lot of their work has involved putting up siding and installing doors. They both intend to be welders in the future.

Peyton Summerall, a West sophomore, said he spent one of his workdays laying in insulation underneath House No. 3. On a hot day, it proved to be a cool spot, so he didn’t mind the close quarters —”other than the itching,” Summerall said.

Students from North installed the insulation inside the house, he noted.

Overcash said he likes that the partnership gives something of meaning to both the students and the families who eventually live in the houses.

Overcash also sees the pride the students take in being part of the construction and hears how they sometimes bring their parents by the sites.

Ken Goforth, core and carpentry instructor at North Rowan High, brings his Carpentry 1 and Carpentry 2 students to the Habitat construction sites. He had five students in tow Thursday and said he likes how the houses afford them the opportunity to start projects and see them through to the end.

“The kids like the time away from school, and they see things don’t always work like the textbooks say they will,” Goforth said.

His students have done all kinds of tasks on the Habitat houses since the start of the school year. On their last visit, for example, they installed the front soffit on House No. 3.

“It’s a great combination,” Goforth said of the Habitat-schools partnership. “I just hope we can keep it up.”

Pore expressed deep appreciation to Emerson and the CTE instructors.

“As long as Mr. Emerson and his team will have us, we’ll show up,” Pore said.

In addition to Overcash and Goforth, CTE instructors involved with Habitat structures include Daniel “Vic” McCallum, woodworking at Carson; David Payne, masonry at East Rowan; Darren Yow, masonry at South Rowan; and Rodney Harrington, masonry at West Rowan.

Beyond the instructors and students, Pore said key contributors on the school side are Megan Smith, curriculum and instructional management coordinator for the CTE program, and Superintendent Lynn Moody.

Pore said Moody strongly supports instruction that taps into students’ passions, while also providing ways of moving their careers forward.

“Students are gaining practical experience with a trade that will allow them to become better employed and, upon graduation, make a living for themselves and eventually for a family of their own,” Emerson said.

“Students also become involved with positive community service which, it is hoped, will continue to enhance the betterment of life in Rowan County in the future.”

Emerson said Habitat and the CTE program also are working to involve students with the Habitat ReStore in Salisbury.

“The relationship between Rowan-Salisbury Schools and Habitat is extraordinarily logical and is beneficial at every level,” he said.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or




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