Rob Hill Takes It One Nail at a Time
Rob Hill works with Transitions student Tyler Myrick on a post placing for a redwood and cedar pergola.
Rob Hill came to Casper when his wife, Jackie, got a job teaching English at CY Middle School. He’d been working along the Front Range of Colorado in the construction business with companies that built apartment complexes; he even built on his own a few times.
Upon arriving in Casper Jackie suggested that he look into the idea of becoming an educator, “something I would never have thought of,” he says, “but I seized the opportunity and went back to school.”
With his background in construction and construction management he knew that the best fit for him would be in that area. But he never dreamed he would one day be in charge of a high school program for students. That program, “Core Construction,” is offered at the Natrona County School District’s Transitions Learning Center. The center caters to at-risk students who are struggling in a traditional high school setting and who do better, typically, with hands-on learning.
Before he could begin teaching, however, he needed a degree. He began at Casper College, earning his associate in secondary education in 2008. He stayed in Casper and transitioned to the University of Wyoming/Casper College Center (now the University of Wyoming at Casper) where he earned his bachelor’s in industrial technology education in 2010. He received his master’s in director of career and technical education from Ball State University in 2015. Oh, and let’s not forget that he is also an authorized OSHA trainer and will begin teaching 10 and 30 hour courses in August and plans to be a pre-apprenticeship certificate program instructor by this fall.
When he first began instructing at Transitions in the summer of 2009, he taught one course in construction. Since then the “one course” has developed into several. “When I first began at Transitions, I started with five-year goals; sequencing coursework, adding classes.” The next step for Hill was to reach an articulation agreement with Casper College. From there he began to integrate and add math and more construction, “because we have a lot of hands-on learners with real world math needs.”
The math skills were important, because as Hill explains, industry wants employees with applied math skills. So his students not only learn construction but they also look at each project from a business standpoint: “How does money operate in construction? This is an important question to know the answer to,” he says. Modeled from a general contractor’s viewpoint, the students are also taught about building codes and permits. “While I was at CC and UW/CC I had about 3.5 years to envision what I thought was important in a course like this, not only construction skills, but business and personal ones too.”
After the successful integration of hands-on learning and math, the next area was to provide the students with industry-recognized credentialed OSHA training for safety in industry. “The kids receive the same training as industry,” Hill notes. He is now working on a pre-apprenticeship program, a way, he says, to get younger people tracked into a registered apprenticeship program that will give them a pathway into a future career.
Students enrolled in the program work on a variety of jobs. Hill co-teaches with Dwight Burrows who handles the math side of things. “Dwight has industry experience as a former engineer. His curriculum matches my curriculum in sequence; it’s time consuming, but the way we do it makes it so real to the kids, it’s happening as they are in the middle of working on a project,” says Hill. Students spend time in the classroom and out in the field. During the summer program they are completely in the field. Students will stay in the field or go back to the classroom and work with Burrows to “dissect where the math was and how it was used.”
In the early days the class was nearly all male. But Hill wanted to change that. “There is a very high female population in Transitions and our first year of teaching we noticed that there was some interest from the girls,” Hill recalls. The trick, he says, was to find the right girls to begin. Once that happened more came. The Core Construction class is now half male and half female.
The Core Construction class has completed 70 jobs in the Casper community over the past six years. “The work finds us, but we do look for the jobs that are the best fit for our kids,” says Hill. In those six years the students have worked on concrete foundations and flatwork, roofing, barns, garages, and even a “little house” with a foundation. Hill even helped set up a cooperative agreement with Casper College and his program to allow his students to work on small cabins with Casper College students, who worked on the more complicated finish elements. “It is exciting for the kids to participate at that high of a level and to see that they can. Most programs around the country aren’t resourced to do high level projects like that,” he says. Hill credits the school district and its very forward thinking in allowing him to expand the courses offered and to participate in the relationship with Casper College. That relationship Hill says has “blossomed to the next level from projects that aren’t complicated to fairly complicated projects for new students including flooring, cabinets, log work, everything.”
Over 90 percent of the students enrolled in the program have earned credit. The hands-on course has provided something for the students that they weren’t able to get in a traditional classroom setting: a course that is not only hands-on, but is also highly focused on a team-based approach. Hill says that it is a “big skill” to be able to work in a co-op setting and that the class “becomes an identity for our students. This becomes their group and they share an accountability and interdependence with one another.”
“I tell the kids that I have the best job in the district, this is the one true career that I love. It is very rewarding to be able to provide an opportunity for these kids, and for many a life-changing opportunity. My reward in all of this is seeing the kids move from the step where you are right next to them, to their independence when they are ready. To see them contribute to this community in the end and to have a community that believes in what you are doing is a wonderful thing,” says Hill. According to Hill, most of his students go into industry directly from high school. Many, he says, are under resourced and need to start making money. “We know that there is a serious problem with skilled labor shortages in the future, which makes courses like this all the more important,” he adds.
“I’ve always had construction in my blood. The timing was perfect for me and it was the right job at the right time. I had interviewed for other jobs, but then the school district opened the job at Transitions. I didn’t have to move and my program is in the perfect town. I liked my old career, but I love this job,” Hill says with a smile.
Since he began teaching for the Natrona County School District, Rob Hill has received a number of recognitions including:
• 2009 New Teacher of the Year by the Wyoming Association for Career and Technical Education (WACTE)
• 2010 Innovative Program by WACTE
• 2011 Innovative Regional Program by the Association for Career and Technical Education
• 2012 Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) Innovative Demonstration Grant awardee
• 2014 WDE national selection for the National Association of State Directors of Career and Technical Education (CTE) Excellence in Action award
• 2014 Arch Coal Teacher Achievement Award
• 2015 Wyoming Department of Education Spotlight Program
• 2015 K2/Reliant FCU Teacher of the Month
• 2016 WACTE nominee Wyoming CTE Teacher of the Year
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue of Footprints.
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