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Warwick Area Career and Technical School

As a kid, Michael wasn’t known as a strong student. He got into trouble a lot, or maybe trouble found him. “My parents weren’t saving for college,” Michael says, “they were saving for bail.”

Michael Haynes grew up on a family farm in a blue-collar rural area of Warwick, Rhode Island. His parents worked hard to make ends meet. Both his father and uncle built their own houses from the ground up. Michael learned how to work hard and how to work with his hands.

When Haynes entered high school, he decided to combine traditional learning with technical studies in construction by attending West Bay Vocational School (WBVS) in Coventry, Rhode Island. Like a lot of tradespeople, Michael discovered he wasn’t a poor student, he simply learned better with his hands than with a chalkboard. In fact, at WBVS, Haynes excelled at learning and soon found a trade that could support his future. He worked his way through high school on a variety of construction jobs, and after graduation, doing commercial work on power plants. He then continued his studies in construction at New England Institute of Technology.

At 20 years-old, with 5 years of work experience and some technical training, he received a call from a past instructor at WBVS urging Michael to apply for an assistant teaching position—an easy decision to make because teaching meant giving back, something Haynes always wanted to do.

After four years of working with his mentor, Mr. David Commolli, he moved on to Warwick Area Career and Technical School (WACTS) where he works today. Michael not only works with WACTS, but he also works at the New England Institute of Technology, where he is an adjunct teacher in their Building Construction and Cabinetmaking program.

Warwick is the 2nd largest city in Rhode Island. The construction trades program at WACTS serves two local public schools: Pilgrim High School and Toll Gate High School. Unlike traditional chalkboard classrooms, WACTS is a module-based program, focusing on specific subjects and providing hands-on training. Most students come from an urban background, where practical experience is not common. These students have rarely worked with tools; most come motivated and eager to learn. Like Michael, these kids learn better on a jobsite than in a traditional classroom setting.

The construction trade program covers residential and light commercial building. Enrollment is usually around 25 students entering level one, with level two and three having about 18 students each. Co-Teachers, Michael Haynes and Brian Vadeboncouer, both work hard to ensure that their students receive the training and work experience needed to succeed after high school. In fact, Vadeboncouer, graduated from the program in 1988 and later came back to teach.

First year students starts with the basics. The program begins with workplace safety, including OSHA training and certification, preparing students to work on jobsites. Students practice proper use of hand and power tools in a controlled environment. The 2,800 square-foot classroom and shop are well equipped with all the hand tools and power tools needed to teach basic techniques. Larger tools of the trade—Sawstop table saws, planers, joiners, band saws, and cabinet making tools are all part of the instruction, including a CNC machine.

Students must feel comfortable working with basic tools and understand safety requirements before working on the jobsite. They practice applying traditional residential construction techniques like layout, framing, sheathing, roofing, interior and exterior trim, remodeling, and stair construction. Students are introduced to joinery and millwork techniques for architectural design, casework, and cabinetry. Contemporary technology in home building is also taught, especially the latest building science methods for achieving energy efficiency and longevity.

All images © Michael Haynes (Note: Click any images to enlarge)

Second year students take this knowledge to the jobsite and put these techniques to practice, with Michael and Brian leading the charge. Michael, acting as a General Contractor, drums up work by connecting with local construction companies that see the value of the program. Students improve their skills in various ways: they work on both new construction and remodels; they occasionally do maintenance and repair work; while some are challenged with more complex joinery and millwork projects, which means shop time.

For third year students, mentoring younger classes on and off the jobsite is a priority: Haynes knows that the best way to learn something is to teach it. But their most important experience is interning for a local builder.

Third year students enjoy the extraordinary opportunity to work alongside true professionals; to see what day-to-day life is really like on a jobsite, ensuring they are on the right track and in the right profession.

This school takes advantage of every possible experience and doesn’t skip a beat. All Warwick students showcase their technical and leadership skills competing with three other local high schools at the SkillsUSA competition.

No matter where the students are working, they are respectful and professional. Michael takes his job seriously. All students wear uniforms. They look sharp. They look like a team. Students are taught to be professional and respectful on the jobsite no matter with whom they work.

Unlike some trade school programs, Warwick students learn to read and understand state building code requirements; all students must take (and pass) the International Code Council (ICC) test for their state. At the end of the program, students are awarded a carpentry certificate from the National Center for Construction Education and Research.

The New England Institute of Technology also awards up to 24 credits to qualified graduates.

Today, Michael has gained support from many local contractors who are passionate about contributing their time and money to training future generations of skilled carpenters.

Readers of THISisCarpentry are familiar with the Ten Rod Road Pro-Remodel Project, by Rick Arnold—long-time contributing editor to Fine Homebuilding. The students from WACTC are doing the majority of that work.


4 Responses to “Warwick Area Career and Technical School”

  1. Mike Guertin

    Lisa Wells did a fantastic job profiling WACTC and instructor Mike Haynes. I’ve been lucky to work with Mike and Brian and their students on a couple of projects and numerous trainings over the past 15 years. They keep classes kinetic and project-based whether it’s out working on jobsites or in the shop rather than sitting in seats. They let students make mistakes – and learn from them. The personal care Mike and Brian take with every one of their students is reflected back in the respect the students have for them. I meet past students regularly and many credit Mike with keeping them interested in school and helping them enter the workforce.

    There are numerous construction career teachers like Mike Haynes across North America who are dedicated to training their students, and every one needs the support of local builders and tradecraft professionals. Find out what training programs are in your area and get in touch to see how you can help. Participate on an advising committee, speak to a class about your trade work, open your jobsites to class visits, let classes of students work side-by-side with you and your crew, bring on an intern and hire recent graduates.

    • Gary Katz

      You are so right! Throughout the U.S., there are countless teachers similar to Mike Haynes and programs similar to Warwick’s–we know that probably better than anyone because for nearly twenty years we’ve been supporting education in the trades with profiles in TiC, personal invitations to attend Katz Roadshow events, and free Katz Roadshow events at trade schools, which were NOT covered by sponsorship, but were instead an annual budget item for our business. We also donate full sets of the Mastering Finish Carpentry DVD series to trade schools and school libraries–been doing that since I first produced the DVDs. I’ve always believed that talk is cheap. To truly support something you respect takes more than catchy tag lines…it requires effort and sacrifice. But with effort and sacrifice comes something extraordinarily good–a sense of accomplishment and the reward of giving. Carpenters and contractors should know that there are excellent instructors at many school programs, and those instructors are always looking for real support from professionals in the industry.

  2. Joe Selgrade

    Hi Gary,
    You’ve done a great job with this magazine and company by visiting schools and promoting the trade! I just celebrated with my fellow WTS grads our 50th graduation last year and it was a great weekend. Since I was in the Seabees in Rhode Island l remember Warwick and liked the area. Thanks again. Joe


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