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Building skills - Arlington High School's first-ever Trades Competition
Posted in , , on May 20, 2024

Building legacies

Everyone can see the construction going on at the front of Arlington High School.

But on a recent Saturday, there was construction in the back, too.

More than a dozen Arlington High students donning blue jeans, neon-orange T-shirts and white hard hats measured and sanded wood planks, drilled holes and hammered nails.

No, they weren’t working on the school’s rear. They were participating in the first-ever Arlington ISD’s Trades Competition led by Chris Grimaldo, who teaches a principles of construction course at Arlington High.

With a background in aviation and a bachelor’s degree in business management, Grimaldo spent a decade as a cabinet maker and lead installer. The six-year construction teacher joined Arlington High’s staff two years ago.

Building skills - Arlington High School's first-ever Trades CompetitionGrimaldo was inspired to host a competition after attending a construction workshop and becoming motivated to shed light on Arlington ISD’s students’ talents.

“I wanted these companies to see how great these Arlington students are. I told them that they are amazing. They have great attitudes. They work really hard,” he said.                    

Grimaldo’s  students were divided into four teams and displayed their woodworking skills while building two picnic tables, a beverage center and a Jenga-style game set. The event’s theme: “Backyard Projects.”

On hand to observe and share their expertise were representatives of TEXO, the largest construction industry trade association in Texas, and The Beck Group, based in Dallas. The event’s other two big sponsors were the City of Arlington and LBL (Live. Build. Lead.) Architects, also based in Arlington. Tim Thompson, a CTE specialist who supports the district’s architecture and construction, manufacturing and engineering programs, said the competition was crucial.

“It’s really important to get the kids excited and to show them that there is support from the district and from the community – that what they are doing is valued,” Thompson said. “There is a need for this industry. Not everything is college-based.”

Winning creations 

“I’m in the field all day long and you can tell – we need trades bad!” said Landon Miller, a senior combination inspector for the City of Arlington. “We need carpentry. We need electricians. We need plumbing. Even if you don’t go into construction, you will use these skills for the rest of your life, and it is fantastic to have.”

Glenn Grant, an LBL architect, echoed Miller’s sentiments.

Building skills - Arlington High School's first-ever Trades Competition“We need the people out there doing things; not everyone sitting at a computer,” he said.

A former longtime teacher, Grant wishes he had the experiences that today’s CTE students are receiving.

“I had shop classes in high school, and I had drafting. But it didn’t go this far, where you have competitions and work collaboratively as a team.”

After spending hours watching the competitors complete their projects, Miller and Grant judged the creations, offering constructive criticism. They asked each of the teams if they would have done anything differently and inquired about how each team divided tasks among its members.

Freshman Yozhbad Carlos led three other students as they built the beverage center that featured a drop-in spot for an ice cooler, a food cutting board space and storage space underneath. The 15-year-old has grown up learning the ins and outs of construction from his grandfather, dad and uncles.

“I felt it was really special that (Grimaldo) called me to be the leader of this group. And I wanted to show up and help them out,” he said.

Carlos was elated to have the experience, humbly taking advice from Miller and Grant. The judges were pleased with the efforts all the teams gave and offered constructive critiques on all of the creations.

Vivaldi Lopez, Gabriel Bateman, Josue Garcia and Roberto Vencill earned the Best Teamwork recognition for the picnic table they built.

The Best Presentation award went to Juan Avendano, Desiree Bustillos and Eric Hernandez, who created the Jenga-style game set. The team was led by 18-year-old Nick Cortez. The senior said he thought the competition “would be fun” when Grimaldo asked him to serve as an advisor for his younger teammates.

By the end of the event, Cortez was offered a job.

Grimaldo said more details about Cortez’s position still need to be determined, but “that’s the whole purpose of (the competition) – to get these kids jobs.”

Isac Tavares, Larry Hurtado and Bobby White – all juniors – won the Best Leadership and Collaboration award for their picnic table version.

The grand prize winner? Carlos and his teammates – Jose Suarez, Richard Hernandez and Landon Henderson – won the Best Overall award for the beverage center. Hernandez, a senior, was also offered a job as a carpenter.

Each award was a rectangular lumber piece in the shape of a pencil, engraved with the category names. The students were also awarded with their choice of gift cards from local businesses like Raising Cane’s, First Watch and Dutch Bros., as well as wireless earbuds.

Grimaldo was so excited about how the inaugural turned out that he humorously told the students and judges, “We gotta go live.”

Framing lives

Throughout the contest, signs that read, “Dirty Hands, Clean Money” and “Support Blue Collar” hung to inspire the contestants about their future careers in construction. Simultaneously, a football scouting session took place on the field on the other side of the gate from the trades competition.

Building skills - Arlington High School's first-ever Trades CompetitionGrimaldo was thrilled to know that his contest judges were keeping a close eye on his students’ efforts. Like the players on the gridiron, Grimaldo’s participants had opportunities to be recruited. For jobs. Right there on the spot.

While it was a true competition, Grimaldo continuously reminded them that it “was all in good fun.” After all, the teens had proven in front of industry experts that they had successfully learned how to handle power tools for which they first had to pass safety tests in the classroom.

“This was the best day ever, guys. I’m not lying,” Grimaldo said. “Being your teacher, I have never been prouder of you.”

As the students helped him take the remaining materials and their projects from their “construction site” back into the school, Grimaldo made them all pause. Affectionately called “G” by his students, the teacher belted, “Hey! Stay on your grind!”

“Whoop-whoop! the students shouted back.

The call-and-response interaction between Grimaldo and his pupils further demonstrated their respect for one another.

“I’m so proud of you, guys. I love you. We’re family,” Grimaldo said.