COVID creates challenges, but East High School is up for it.

By Bill Rose, Academy Coach and Career and Tech Ed Director at East High School

Earlier last year we were approached by Habitat for Humanity to take a more robust role in the community on helping build a home for an area family in need of housing.  East students in past years worked on the Swedish Historical Society home, completed small business renovations, built residential ramps for the handicap and a host of other projects at area homes.  When Habitat for Humanity asked us to serve our community by taking on a new house build, our teachers Matt Walling and Juliun Austin said, “When can we start?” 

Starting the project became difficult for them from day one.  Covid 19 restrictions held back numbers of kids who could participate, combined with scheduling changes that wreaked havoc on students getting into a flow of work for the project.  Our students are resilient though.  From adjusting to the new schedules to working under harsh conditions in the cold, we continued to push our students to see some of the struggles real construction teams face.  This isn’t easy work, but we are proud that we are taking real life skills and transferring them to this new generation of workers. 

Matt Walling, Construction teacher for East, shares some of the frustration.  “We couldn’t start building the walls until last Spring, thus we started behind schedule.”  It was a perfect storm for not being able to complete this project and walking away thinking we couldn’t finish.  Finishing is what we teach as East E-Rabs though.  While kids struggle to get through the adjustments related to Covid and scheduling, they still manage to show up each day on the site and push on through.  “It’s an adjustment nearly every day,” says Construction teacher Juliun Austin.  Austin believes that the lessons these kids are learning are life changing.  “When you see a young person framing a house, working on plans or doing something they have never done, and getting good at it.  That’s when we realize we are changing lives not just for the kids, but the people that are going to live in this home,” Austin mentioned. 

Due to the resiliency of our students, East will be taking on another home and hopes to continue to build for Habitat for Humanity so long as they need the help.  “Our commitment to Rockford as a whole comes from a deep sense of self-preservation for our neighbors, our neighborhoods and our school. There isn’t a better project to be a part of,” said Bill Rose, CTE program Director for the Academies at East.