Thursday, June 2, 2022

Bragging rights: RF student graduates college before high school

Article Photo - Bragging rights: RF student graduates college before high school

John Klecker, 18, of River Falls, will graduate from high school on Sunday, June 5. Two weeks earlier, Klecker graduated from Chippewa Valley Technical College's residential construction program.


John Klecker might be considered a current day Doogie Howser of construction.

Klecker, 18, will be graduating from River Falls High School on Sunday, but two weeks ago, he graduated from Chippewa Valley Technical College in River Falls.

It’s not typical for high school students to graduate from college before high school, but with CVTC offering high school academies where students attend college during their high school years, it’s becoming more common, said Justin Borgwardt, River Falls Residential Construction instructor.

When Klecker learned he could learn a skill, get full college credit and graduate from both schools at the same time, he was in.

“It is my senior year, and I didn’t want to be sitting in a classroom all day,” he said while standing in the garage of a home he helped build recently. “This was a good opportunity. For me to be outside and only in the classroom two days a week and get hands-on experience, I really wanted to do it.”

Although Klecker never had a huge interest in construction previously, he said now that he’s actually done the work, it’s a lot of “fun.”

He also said he understands better how what he was learning in high school translates to a profession like construction, where he’s using math and measuring skills.

But it wasn’t always right angles and rainbows. Klecker said pulling up on the job site in River Falls for the first time, to a freshly poured basement and nothing else, was daunting.

“It was so interesting,” he said. “We just looked at each other. Everyone is new to this. But you see the foundation, and you start laying the mudsill, and then one by one, walls go up, and then all of a sudden, the roof trusses are on, and interior walls are up, and it just moves.”

Borgwardt said most of his students don’t have construction experience, but they can build a house by the time they’ve completed their nine-month course.

“It actually works to their advantage to have no prior experience because they haven’t picked up bad habits,” he said. “We teach them the building code and the why behind what they are doing. The process is slower because we’re explaining as we go, but their future employers appreciate it.”

Borgwardt said he takes pride in knowing that the students are ready to build a home when they graduate from the program. Students learn blueprint reading, estimating, framing and construction safety, but they also learn soft skills like communication, accountability, integrity and responsibility.

They have the background knowledge to start their own business. They can easily be trained to be building inspectors because they have the background, he said.

He’s also happy to see a shift in thinking among communities and potential students.

“It’s encouraging to see a shift in people’s attitudes towards accepting the trades as a viable career choice,” he said. “We’re starting to see more parents willing to accept their kids entering into this kind of field. We see attitudes change, and that’s a good thing. Our communities need these skilled workers.”

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