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Special Brandon Chester, left, a teacher of the three-year construction career pathway for Cherokee County School District and Heath Matiak, one of the donors and a program administrator, said the program will create a job atmosphere for kids.

WOODSTOCK — A new three-year career pathway for Cherokee County School District has opened up at Etowah High School: construction.

The Career, Technical and Agricultural Education pathway launched with the beginning of this school year as a collaboration between educators and industry leaders. Curriculum is based on National Center for Construction Education and Research, or NCCER guidelines, and by the end of the three years students will have a head start in training toward industry certification.

The pathway is designed to be broad, covering core areas and practicing a variety of aspects of residential construction and repairs, including electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning, construction teacher Brandon Chester said.

“They’ll basically touch on every component in a home,” he said.

The first year is heavily focused on safety, covering topics required for industry jobs, Chester said. In the first few weeks, the students are getting introduced to initial safety concepts like using harnesses and helmets. Later, they’ll start practicing with hand tools before advancing to power tools. Groups of students will build work stations that they’ll use for the rest of the program.

“We want to make this as real as you can possibly get. We want to create a job atmosphere, so we’re going to partner up with our architecture department,” Chester said of the work station project, adding that architecture students will design the stations and list materials needed to build it, working closely with the construction students.

To help launch the program and support it in its beginning stages, local construction and manufacturing companies have pitched in to offer materials and expertise.

The Matiak Foundation, with several businesses, serves with Chester and school administrators as the program’s advisory board.

The companies have made monetary donations, given tools and other resources, and met with students in the program to connect the curriculum with job opportunities.

Students will not necessarily graduate with full certification, but they will have a skill set they can build on at a technical school or in on-the-job training, said Heath Matiak, director of the foundation.

Matiak said that the local businesses’ investment in the program is essential to keep students involved.

“It’s keeping them engaged. Look at all this stuff, look at the commitment from not only your school, but the community. The kids that are in this classroom, their engagement in a program like this, may be, potentially why they come to school,” Matiak said.

“I was one of those kids. I left early, I didn’t finish high school. I said, ‘I’m done, I’m going to work.’ If I had had something like this, I probably would have stuck around and been better for it. The community partnerships, I think, are essential. Without that, you don’t have the ability for this program to really matter.”

Shannon is a reporter covering education, city governments, crime, features, religion and other local news. She is a graduate of Young Harris College and currently lives in unincorporated Woodstock.

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