Building a Foundation; Honoring History

Our history is a part of our lives. Certain events have a big impact and you will always remember where you were on those days. Events like the September 11 Terror Attacks, Pearl Harbor and the Assassination of JFK. Like all of those events, the COVID-19 pandemic will be one for the history books.

However, even during the most trying times, some things do not change. Our mission of Educating People for Success in the Workplace, or the traditions that take place on our campuses and in our lab space. One program tradition is the 9/11 Memorial wall. Students in the Masonry program make this the very first project of every year.

masked students stand in front of 9/11 memorial wall

“I started the project in 2003,” Chauncey Kila, Masonry Instructor, said. “Now it has changed into a project and a history lesson since many of my students were not born yet when the attacks happened.”

As each year passes, fewer students were alive to know how the attack changed America. Kila uses that as a chance to share the history with students, sharing the events of September 11, 2001. Students then use that knowledge to design and build a tribute wall to honor the victims in New York, Washington, DC and Pennsylvania.

“I learned a lot about the attacks,” Joe Fitch, an adult Masonry student, said. “I was really young when it happened, so it was interesting to hear the impact the wall has on people.”

This year’s wall features two plexiglass towers, pentagon shapes on the base, the number “93” and nearly 3,000 blue squares to signify the lives lost in the attacks. It also features the same quote found on the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York City, “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”.

Kila says beyond learning how to build with bricks, the project teaches the professional skills students need. Skills like communication, problem solving and working as a team. It took a little over three weeks for students to complete the project from design to completion, and each person has a different favorite part.

“I think the steel lettering with the quote from the Roman poet Virgil is awesome,” Kila said with a grin. “I like the blue tile representing all of the lives lost that day,” Fitch said. “I think it is a touching tribute.”

The project is always a challenge for Kila’s class, not just because of the timeline, but because of the new students. The Masonry program is a one-year high school or nine-month adult course, and students start with safety.

“I question doing the wall every year, and especially this year with the pandemic,” Kila said. “And every year it is the feedback we get that keeps it on the calendar.”

The meaning of the wall is not lost on the students; “It is a great way to start the year, and has so much meaning to so many people,” Jose Contreras, a high school Masonry student, said. “This shows us how all the skills we will learn come together.”

The intricate design and building took students just more than two weeks to complete, a tight timeline but something Fitch says was not a concern. “This teaches us about time management and getting projects done on time,” Fitch said with a smile.

For Fitch and the other students in the program the wall is more than a tribute, it is their first proof of the skills they are learning.

“I am happy to be able to do something I love,” Fitch said grinning. “Hopefully, so where down the road I can own my own business and continue to build beautiful items that will last a lifetime.”

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