GAP School Provides Construction Pathway

GAP School Provides Construction Pathway

June 26, 2024

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In Saint Paul, MN, GAP School, a part of Change Inc., is helping at-risk teens and young adults graduate and enter a rewarding career in construction. The GAP School serves students ages 16-24, offering structured classrooms and hands-on experience to support them in earning their high school diploma. Currently, 100 students are enrolled at the GAP School with 60 in grades 9-12 and 40 in the Adult Basic Education program. Almost 50 percent of the students are English language learners.

The GAP school is portfolio-based and has a contract with Saint Paul Public Schools allowing graduates to earn their diploma from a recognized school district. The school provides students with two pathways, healthcare or construction. Students select their path during junior or senior year, with nearly 50 percent of students selecting construction and many ending up in a construction related field after graduation.

An average day for students in the construction pathway program includes construction training classes, English language acquisition courses and an elective option. Tony Zahradka, the Director of Employment and Training, has been with GAP School for 20 years and shared that “our students really love the construction program.”

GAP School Students Working

Cuurent GAP School students working on a house in St. Paul, MN

Currently there are ten journeymen floor coverers who are alumni of GAP School in the union, a number Tony aims to increase. “We try to send as many students to the Carpenters Union as we can. We love working with them.” The GAP School’s construction curriculum encourages students to work on all aspects of the building process. Craig Wagenknecht, a former contractor and carpentry instructor at the school for over a decade, oversees most of the home-building process. Students are involved in every aspect, from cleaning trees off a property to finishing window coverings. So far, the program has built or totally remodeled five houses.

One house from the ground up takes nearly two years to finish; year one they are shelled in and year two the finish work is done. Notably, their most recent house received Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, earning the school an IMPACT award from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Feedback from students has been very positive. Former student Aung Way (Local 68 – St. Paul, MN) attended GAP School in 2015-2016. He shared, “At the GAP School, I had a chance to do everything from start to finish. They helped me a lot with how to use hand and power tools and with my communication skills. It was helpful when I got in the field.”  Tony and the GAP School staff maintain contact with graduates for a year post-graduation to monitor their progress. For many like Aung, the GAP School allows them to build a rewarding life and career after graduation.

Aung ITC

Aung Way at the International Training Center in Las Vegas, NV

“If I didn’t attend GAP School and get my high school diploma, and the valuable experience and knowledge, I would not be here today,” Aung stated. “I’m really glad that my teachers helped me get me into the union and get good pay and receive good benefits.” As students begin building a second home on the property, they are eager to learn and continue to improve their construction skills, setting them up for long-term success.

To learn more about the GAP school and their efforts in the St. Paul community, visit