Fremont Students Design and Build Classroom

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Phong Hoang (far left) and Drew Prober (far right) surround students in their MC3 Design and Build class as they take a break from constructing a classroom. Elvira Rivera Soto stands third from the left and Bill Luna stands next to her, to her right. Photo by Zack Haber

During this 2018-2019 school year, about two dozen Fremont High School seniors are building a new classroom for future students and teachers to use. “I love that I can get pieces of wood and turn them into so many different things,” said Elvira Rivera Soto, who has enjoyed studying wood working since her sophomore year. “Last year’s senior class designed the room, and this year we’re the ones who are building it,” she said.

The project is a year-long class called MC3 Design and Build co-taught by design teacher Phong Hoang and woodworking teacher Drew Prober. Students begin most classes by checking in at Hoang’s quiet classroom full of computers. Then some students move next door to Prober’s classroom filled with the sounds of hammering and sawing while others work just outside, at the construction site of the new room.

“What they’re building is different than a regular classroom because it’s an indoor-outdoor hybrid space,” said Prober. The room will be filled with plants and partially roofed with a large, open area to allow sunlight to stream in. Starting next school year, teachers will be able to sign up to hold their classes in the room if they wish. While classrooms are usually dark and enclosed, Prober sees the room his students are building as “a spacious, green, light-filled” area.

“When you’re in a classroom, you feel confined,” said Bill Luna, another Fremont student who’s working on the project, “so it’ll be nice for students and teachers to have something new and a change of pace.” For design teacher and Fremont High School graduate Hoang, his role at the school and in the project have special significance. “When I went to Fremont I felt that I didn’t get what I needed,” Hoang said.

“So when I came back to teach I wanted to be a part of a movement that taught students skills that would offer them more career choices when they finish high school.” Due to the close proximity of their rooms and the links between their subjects, it didn’t take long for Hoang and Prober to collaborate.

They ran an after-school class together called Design Build where nearby residents would give students projects, like building a bed frame or a stand, that students would then design and build.

After two years, the teachers asked Fremont’s administration if they could expand the after-school class into a regular class. The new class offered them the chance to delve into the two-year project to build a new classroom.

In addition to learning the hard skills, like using a saw and holding a hammer, Hoang and Prober are also happy that the project is teaching students soft skills like teamwork, time management, and applied mathematics. And they’re excited about them taking the skills they learn to apply toward their life, which has begun to happen.

“I’ve seen students use the skills they learn in my or Prober’s classes to rebuild or redesign their garage,” said Hoang. The students and the teachers both see the project as special and different from their other classes. To them, the grades are secondary to the project they’re creating. “It’s a project that is bigger than a grade,” said Prober. “It allows students to see the connection between what they’re doing and how that affects their environment.”

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