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Airdrie House and Home: Building Futures student touts benefits of home-building program

Though Gagnon said she doesn’t intended to pursue the trades as a career, she called participation in the program in the 2020-21 school year “the best year of high school” and it had a big impact on her future goals.
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Building Futures tasks students with building a house from scratch, under the supervision and tutelage of McKee Homes and various tradesworkers.
Madison Gagnon knew she wanted to participate in the Building Futures program for a long time.

“I knew that I wanted to join Building Futures ever since Grade 4,” said the student, who will enter Grade 11 in September. “In Grade 4, my class came and toured one of that year’s Building Futures houses. Since that moment, [the program] was always something in the back of my mind as something I definitely wanted to do in the future. When applications opened, I knew that I had to apply.”

Though Gagnon said she doesn’t intended to pursue the trades as a career, she called participation in the program in the 2020-21 school year “the best year of high school” and it had a big impact on her future goals. 

“Before, I never honestly thought I would ever buy a house,” she said.  “After this program, I came away with ideas on how amazing having your own house can be and how to plan and set myself up to be in that position in the future.”

Q: Did your impression of Building Futures change after experiencing it?

A: My impression of the Building Futures program definitely changed after going through it. Initially I thought it was just kids building a house, which it still is, but I learned that it is so much more than that. Even though you do still build a house, you also learn tons of life skills and make new friends that will truly be there for the rest of your life.

Q: What was the highlight of the program for you and why?

A: It’s so hard to nail down one specific highlight from the program because it was all truly amazing. One of the highlights of the program for me was exhibition. It was amazing to use all of the skills we had learned throughout the building process to make a project that was personalized and had a special meaning to each and every person.

It was also amazing to be able to tour friends and family throughout the house to show off and feel proud at all you had accomplished throughout the year.

Q: What was most challenging and why?

A: The most challenging part of the Building Futures program, for me, was to step out of my comfort zone. When I entered the program, I had little to no carpentry experience. The first day on site it was a bit scary to see all the pneumatic power tools and think that I would have to use them. Luckily once you tried it and jumped in, everything turned out great.

Q: In your opinion, has the program given you an advantage that traditional schooling would not have?

A: Building Futures gave me so many advantages that just wouldn’t be possible in a traditional high school setting. For one, I was able to do a Grade 11 course in Grade 10 that probably wouldn’t have been possible in a traditional Grade 10 year because of student population.

Secondly, I was able to explore my own personal interests. For our option courses, we were able to go through the Alberta Education courses and pick a couple that interested us. We then worked with our teachers and developed our own option courses that were tailored to our own interests and hobbies. Even though traditional school offers option courses, they don’t allow for that same flexibility of being able to tailor and create your own option course.

Finally, Building Futures gave me tons of life skills and information that I probably wouldn’t have gotten in high school. We were not only able to learn the skills we need to maintain and fix things in our own homes, but also learned about paying mortgages and how to set ourselves up for success for later down the road.

Q: What would you tell other students who are thinking of enrolling in Building Futures?

A: I would definitely say to go for it. Personally, when I was considering applying for Building Futures, I was worried about messing something up and not having any building experience prior to entering the program. After going through the program, I know that you really have nothing to worry about. Trades, teachers and McKee Homes employees are always super patient and will never force you to do something you don’t feel comfortable doing.

Q: Did anything surprise you about the program?

A: The most surprising thing of the Building Futures program, for me, was the friendships you form throughout the program. Luckily, I went into the program knowing a couple of people, but I expected that the people I knew were going to be my only friends in the program. By October or November, the class turned into one big happy family, which was an amazing experience and dynamic to be a part of.

Q: What benefits did you gain from working with McKee Homes staff and other trades people?

A: The McKee Homes staff and trades were all super amazing people. They were able to give us advice and were able to help us pave a pathway to where we eventually wanted to get. The best thing was is that they were all super respectful of you, whether you wanted to go into trades or not. They didn’t push you one way and say that going into the trades was the only option, but rather gave you their expertise on whatever path we were thinking of.

Q: If given the opportunity, would you participate in the program again?

A: I would 100 per cent do Building Futures again. This program was the experience of a lifetime. I made so many new friends, gained new skills and I think it is safe to say that this experience was the best year of high school.