At North Cobb High School, Brent Branning is teaching construction technology to students who often have not been exposed to any kind of trade.
A U.S. Army veteran, Branning graduated from Florida A&M University with a degree in construction management. After working as a project engineer in the private sector and serving as an assistant manager for Alpharetta’s road projects, including sidewalks, drainage and realignment, the teaching bug caught him. In 2016, he joined the Warriors staff and, in just two years, has made a positive impact on the program. I recently interviewed Branning. Here are some highlights from our conversation:
What areas of construction are covered, and what is a typical day like?
From Level I to Level III, students are taught how to read a tape measure, hand and power tool safety, OSHA training, blueprint reading, employability skills, construction math, the basics of carpentry, electrical, masonry and plumbing. My Level III class is Plumbing I, so that goes further into the plumbing trade. Students learn how to solder and braze, how to measure pipe, about drain-waste-vent (DWV) systems and isometric drawings, how to identify types of fittings and fixtures and complete a rough-in.
Describing a typical day is tough, because it seems to change all the time, which is what makes my class so exciting. For example, my Level III plumbing students just completed a large project for Coach Shane Queen. We spent the early part of the semester cutting and assembling 48-plus new lockers for the freshman football locker room. However, most days will start with a warmup by reading various measurements on the smartboard and recording their answer. After that, we continue with the lesson we are on. I like for the students to be up and doing something in my class, so if they complete their book work early, I will have a hands-on activity for them to complete that coincides with the lesson. For example, during the safety and OSHA lessons, the group will read and complete guided notes on ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI). Once the group completes the notes, I send that group around campus on a scavenger hunt to identify as many GFCI outlets as they can in 20 minutes. I like to keep it fun and engaging.
What projects do the students complete during the school year?
My Level I students complete smaller projects specifically designed to give them practice using all the equipment that we have in the shop. One day, their group will build a small toolbox with provided directions, sketch and materials. The next day they use the jigsaw and/or scroll saw to create and cut out a jigsaw puzzle. Another project is the construction of a saw horse. All projects require the groups to work together, read and follow directions, and use a tape measure. The final hand and power tool project is a pallet wood project, where each group develops their own idea for the project. They are required to create the sketch with dimensions, build a model, then construct the project. The students really enjoy this project because they get to choose what to build.
The big project in my Level II class is the design and construction of a model house. This is a small group project and has several steps before construction. The students will go through various scaling activities, and floor and wall framing activities, before drawing and building their model house.
Level III is focused specifically on the plumbing trade. They learn how to solder, use a pipe threader, how to install fixtures and rough-in plumbing.
Something that I implemented a few semesters ago is the work order program. Early in the semester, I email all teachers and administrators a work request. If they have a need, they can complete the form and submit it to me to complete. We have completed small projects, such as hanging pictures on walls to building lockers. Typically, the Level II and III students complete these tasks.
How could the construction program be enhanced in the future?
Industry partnership is the key to a successful and enhanced program. My primary goal during my second year of teaching was to build relationships with various industry partners who can come in and, not only talk to the students, but provide hands-on activities/labs for students. I have had very positive feedback from the students when they get an opportunity to weld or solder copper pipe. We had a representative from C.W. Matthews come in to my Level III class, and he brought and set up their heavy equipment simulator.
Fitzgerald & Sons Plumbing brings in a few plumbers for the day each semester and demonstrates how to solder, braze and cut cast iron pipe.
Georgia Trade School sends representatives to the school and has allowed students to learn the basics of welding.
Brasfield & Gorrie, Ivey Mechanical, and the Mechanical Trades Institute also have been involved in the program at North Cobb, with guest speakers about their company and the opportunities available in construction. This assistance and support from the industry is necessary for a successful program.
What is the hardest part of selling a young person on a construction career — particularly in an area where so many kids go to college?
I think most students don’t think they can be successful in life unless they have a college degree. They don’t realize the knowledge and skill that is involved, and the opportunities available, in the different trades. I think they also are surprised by the amount of money you can make as a skilled trade worker.
By Ryan Blythe, contributing writer and founder of Georgia Trade School, and a two-time recipient of the Cobb Chamber Top 25 Small Businesses of the Year. Blythe has appeared in dozens of media forums, including multiple appearances in The Wall Street Journal and the homepage of Yahoo.