For 12 students at Carroll County High School, it was an outdoor classroom.
The students, drafting teacher Christy Williams, and assistant principal Roland Hall were invited to spend a half-day recently learning about highway construction and heavy equipment operation by Branch Highways, the contractor widening Rt. 58 in Carroll, Floyd and Patrick Counties in partnership with VDOT.
“This was a unique opportunity for us: having an employer invite us to come to a work site to improve students’ understanding of the application of what they are taught in the classroom,” said Hall. “This was a valuable learning experience.”
The students, primarily seniors, were chosen by their teachers. They came from classes such as building trades, electronics, drafting and agriculture which help make up the STEM Academy for Technical Education named Blue Ridge Crossroads Governor’s Academy for Technical Education (BRCGATE).
After a safety orientation and an overview of construction plans at the Branch field office at Laurel Fork, the students went to a section of the new road that was being cleared by several large bulldozers. “Students were intrigued that the bulldozers use GPS technology to help the operators determine the precise location for the subgrade,” said Pete Copes, Branch’s general superintendent.
Then, the students observed the installation of storm drains. The 8.3 mile project will require 15,000 meters of drainage pipe.
Students also saw the magnitude of the $120 million project, which employs approximately 100 construction workers and uses millions of dollars in heavy equipment.
Branch employees cooked lunch for the students after their tour, giving them an opportunity to ask questions about jobs. Typical construction jobs include equipment operators, GPS crew, erosion and sentiment control and laborers.
“This was a wonderful experience for the students to see the real world,” said Williams. “They saw how computer aided design (CAD) is used in road construction, and now they understand how drafting can lead to a career.
“The students also observed the various roles and responsibilities of construction workers,” she added, “and the teamwork that is required for a successful project.”
Hall said students are encouraged to attend college and explore their options. “There are excellent trade jobs available for students who attend college,” he said.
“Because of this field trip, our students saw the application of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in a practical way,” Hall continued. “This visit was valuable to our students because they saw people performing their jobs, and that they enjoy their work but are serious about it.”
One student, Troy Grimes of Woodlawn said he has “a better picture of what construction workers go through on the job every day. This is real world,” he said. Grimes said he is even more interested in a construction job after the field trip.
Collin Williams of Fancy Gap said he is impressed with use of heavy equipment and technology in road construction. “I did not really know how a highway was built, but now it is easy to understand why the costs are what they are.”
Levi Jennings of Dugspur said he believes the road will lead to more jobs for local residents. “I definitely see how having a modern four-lane highway will increase tourism and put our region in a better position to attract industry.”
“At Branch, we have a responsibility to the communities where we work, and expanding the horizons of students is one way we can give back,” said Copes. “The seriousness of the students impressed me. They were attentive and asked excellent questions.”
This was a rewarding experience for the students and Branch Highways, he added.
The Blue Ridge Crossroads Governor’s Academy for Technical Education would like to thank Branch Highways and Pete Copes for this unique opportunity and hospitality extended to our students.