Tom Goodhue thinks the Milton-Freewater Unified School District is building something really good.

Administrators in the district began creating curriculum and experiences around the putting up of a new elementary school, to introduce students in all grades to the construction industry and the many skills and workers needed in it.

That’s not happening elsewhere, Goodhue said.

“This is unique, that a school district would take the time and trouble and effort to do that.”

Goodhue is executive director of the Oregon Building Congress, a group founded in 1927 to develop and promote apprenticeship training programs before those came under state regulation.

Now the organization works with schools — mostly in Western Oregon — to introduce students to the construction craft trades.

It’s an important mission in a time when schools have cut industrial art programs and fewer kids get the opportunity to learn some manual labor before they hit the job market, Goodhue said Friday.

“Kids today are growing up to have no understanding of what even is done in construction. People have gotten the impression that going to college is the only way out.”

Schools are missing the opportunity to give students the chance to correlate skills like math with real-world application, Goodhue noted.

“They’re going to find out about any job they do will need math. We hear from industry leaders the kids coming out of high school, their math is really bad.”

Last month, performance ratings released by Oregon for public schools showed only 41 percent of students in the state attained a proficient score in math; in Milton-Freewater, while overall math proficiency rose from 20 to 24 percent, scores for eighth-graders dropped 7 percentage points from 2016.

But moving a type of math — like fractions and metric measurements — from paper to hands-on use can change everything, Goodhue said.

“Things kids can actually see, touch and feel and turn them into formulas.”

Not every student is going to become a roofer or sheet metal worker, he added, “but if someone went though that experience in high school, they would see they could do it and have to skills to physically do something.”

Kids from rural areas who have worked on the family farm or been immersed in programs like 4-H or FFA get to the top of the list faster for highly-competitive construction apprenticeship opportunities, Goodhue pointed out.

“They have a work ethic. There are lots of kids who graduate from high school and college who have never worked.”

That the Milton-Freewater school district is giving its students a head start as its new school rises is “phenomenal,” he said.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers education in the Walla Walla Valley. She also writes a column, Home Place, usually highlighting family life and slices of local life.