A community comes together

By Lana Hamilton

Students at West Washington Junior Senior High School are experiencing real life working experiences and in the process are helping one of their teachers, Maria Burks.

Burks sold her home unexpectantly and needed a place to call home. She intially moved in with her son, Patrick, but knew she wanted her own place, for her sake and his. In the meantime, she was having trouble getting in and out of Patrick’s trailer safely, due to a steep set of stairs. “I knew there was a need to provide something more accessible and easier on her with her arthritis,” Patrick said.

“Like so many things in the West Washington community, things came together quickly to help a member in need.”

Dennis Tankersley, the construction trades teacher, offered for his students to build a ramp to help her out. Many of the students in the construction classes are also in FFA, so Mr. Bergdoll, the FFA advisor, secured a grant for the chapter, designating the ramp as a community service project.

“Mom would call it a God thing, in terms of how quickly and efficiently things were brought together and done,” Patrick said.

Finally the time came for her new pad to arrive, her “granny pod,” was delivered to its new location on West Washington School Road, at the back of property owned by her other son, Andrew and his family.

Maria designed her new home with assistance from Baird Homes in Salem, adapting the two bedroom singlewide into a one bedroom with a larger ADA bathroom and open floor plan. “It is affordable housing for older people,” she said. “I even added a fireplace.”

Little did Tankersley and his students know, but building the ramp at Patrick’s was just the tip of the iceberg. Now that Maria was in her new home, she also needed to be able to access it safely, and she knew just who to turn to. She would pay for the supplies, if they would provide the labor.

“Maria is our school counselor and expressed a need for a deck and ramp at her new home,” Tankersley said. So, the students, under Tankersley’s direction, designed and built a progressive deck for Maria’s new home.

He said, “The students have been a part of the entire process. From designing, building a mock up, creating a material list, ordering material and installing.”

The onsite work was done on a sunny, but muddy Friday, Dec. 3.

The students who were working on the job site, came together for a common good. They all enjoyed the work and some, but not all, have aspirations of working in construction. Faith Stearman, a sophomore, plans on becoming a nurse, while James Martin, a freshman, already works construction for his grandfather’s business, Top Guns, out of Shoals.

Stearman said, “I enjoy helping others and the teamwork.” Freshman Gavin Hollen prefers to work on his own. He assembled most of the decking at the school by himself.

All of the students agree that they have learned something extra by being in the construction trades classes.

Tankersley said, “This is an important curriculum because it gives the students a clear understanding of what is expected on a jobsite, how to manage time, manage wasted materials, and work together.”

Stearman said, “The way we do math in construction is similar to math for nursing.” Senior Autumn McKinney said, “Working is easier than being in class.” She is familiar with construction because of working for her dad’s construction/welding company, Advance Fabrications. She also works at Wendy’s. She said construction may not be her career path, but whatever she chooses to do, her work ethic and a good recommendation from Tankersley will help her and her classmates get jobs after high school.

Hollen plans to join the Marines and become a mechanic. “I don’t mind getting dirty,” he said.

Lennon Weiging, a freshman, hopes to learn from the beginning classes and move into welding. “I like being outside and using the tools,” he said.

Tankersley said, “The one thing I hope the kids walk away from this class with is that construction is a viable option to those willing to work hard, be persistent, and never stop learning new skills.”

Helping someone they know helped give them a purpose. Most said it was a cool thing to help their counselor. Maria also thought it was pretty cool to have her students help her. She said, “All the kids working together is so awesome and that they are doing something for someone else, makes it even better.”

During the course of a year, Tankersley likes to have one large project and several smaller ones. “We have built other ramps, benches, outdoor furniture and poured concrete pads, just to name a few,” he said.

Maria said, “The whole community has come together to help me and I am so grateful.”


Please Login for Premium Content

Site Login Help

For current subscribers to The Salem Leader and The Salem Democrat, you can login to the site using the following information:

Username: Please use your full email address associated with your account
Password: Please use your last name. Passwords are case sensitive, so please capitalize your last name (eg: Smith)