GREENSBORO — Students studying skilled trades and construction in Guilford County Schools will earn money while helping rehab local homes under a new contract announced by the district Wednesday.
Leaders expect to start related classwork with students at the beginning of next school year. Students could begin working on the project as soon as late next school year.
Guilford County Schools was one of five groups nationwide to be awarded a contract in phase three of the Fannie Mae Sustainable Communities Innovation Challenge. Fannie Mae, a company created by the U.S. federal government, will give the school district $500,000 for the initiative.
The schools are calling their plan “Safer Together Green Housing” because they are aiming to teach students “green” construction skills while helping keep affordable housing in Greensboro. Those skills could include understanding what materials are more environmentally sustainable, for example.
“This will make our students more marketable in a field that is desperately looking for more qualified skilled workers,” said Kathleen Dawson, the district’s chief innovation officer. “With the project, our students will be able to help families stay in their homes by providing the necessary repairs, because so often they are displaced and we want to avoid that.”
Dawson said the schools will continue to have students working on new home construction including “tiny homes” as they have in the past, but will add this in as well.
The idea for the schools to apply came from local affordable housing advocate Beth McKee-Huger, a former executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Greensboro as well as of the Greensboro Housing Coalition. She brought the idea to school board member Winston McGregor, another former executive director of the local Habitat group.
Once the program is up and running, the district aims to rehab 40 homes each year. The hope is that those repairs would then help homeowners qualify for grants for weatherization and other assistance.
Dawson said they plan to open the opportunity to teachers in the various, related skilled trades programs at Andrews, Southeast, Southern, Weaver, Academy at Smith, Eastern, Page and Grimsley high schools. Which students participate could depend on which teachers decide to take part.
Collaborating partners on the project include Cone Health, the city of Greensboro, the Greensboro Housing Coalition, the Regional Council of Governments and two UNCG research centers.
It will continue work started by UNCG’s Invest Health project, which has completed over $4.5 million in neighborhood revitalization projects.
At Dawson’s request, Stephen Sills, a professor of sociology and director of the Invest Health Initiative at UNCG, shared a story at Wednesday’s announcement as an example of the kind of impact students might have.
Members of the Invest Health Greensboro team came across a 73-year-old homeowner, on a 19-degree night, who’d been without heat for more than three years and had a basketball-sized hole in her roof, Sills said.
“It took $50 and a volunteer from a roofing company to patch that hole and make her house sound enough to qualify for weatherization,” he said, adding that while it’s taken a year, she’s now on a list to receive a new heating system.