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SFUSD summer construction class helps build City College enrollment

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SFUSD students practice building a house frame during the summer construction program at John O’Connell High School. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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When he was a young boy, Omar Sampedro and his brothers helped their father extend the family’s home near Candlestick Point. They added two bedrooms, a bathroom and increased the house’s property value from under $200,000 to almost $1 million.

“Ever since I’ve been getting my hands dirty,” Sampedro, an 18-year-old Downtown High School senior, said on a recent Thursday after setting down a shovel he’d used to craft concrete pavers.

Sampedro is among the first group of 20 San Francisco Unified School District students to receive college credit through a summer construction class at John O’Connell High School. The class runs until July 13.

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Under the dual-enrollment program, successful students will earn two credits for introductory construction courses at City College of San Francisco, which has struggled with low enrollment since its accreditation was threatened in 2013.

“It definitely is helping our numbers,” said Torrance Bynum, dean of the CCSF Evans Center near India Basin. “Our enrollment is not where we want it to be.”

In the lot behind John O’Connell last month, groups of students hammered nails into building frames or stirred concrete in a mixer. A small wooden house stood nearby, a symbol of the success previous students had in teacher Chris Wood’s class.

His students are a pipeline into The City’s bustling construction industry. Under a union agreement, San Francisco builders have to hire a certain percentage of local workers for construction jobs.

“All we have to do is find high school students who want to be construction workers rather than rap video makers,” said Wood, who was a builder for 12 years before he took up teaching. This is the fourth year he has taught the summer program.

The course is an extension of the regular school year at John O’Connell, where juniors and seniors spend half their school days in one of four labs: building and construction trades, culinary and entrepreneurship, environmental technology and health and behavioral science.

John O’Connell was a vocational program for about 60 years, according to Principal Mark Alvarado. But that changed around 15 years ago when there was a shift in the school district away from Career Technical Programs.

“The resurgence of Career
Technical Programs is basically centered around O’Connell,” Alvarado said. “We’re real proud of where we’re at.”

That day, the students were building pavers to place around a wood-burning pizza oven in the garden behind John O’Connell. The oven was constructed by Wood’s previous students and was being used by a cooking class this week.

By the end of the summer program, the students will have made a concrete table top for a ping pong table for the Market Street Prototyping Festival.

Bynum, the CCSF dean, said the students will be advanced if they decide to continue in construction at the Evans campus or join San Francisco’s CityBuild Academy, a job-placement program for students interested in skilled trades.

“There’s a lot of students who are interested in vocational trades,” Bynum said. “This will give them the opportunity to see if they want to pursue construction.”

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