Al Crutchfield teaches about 80 students a year in the building construction  technology program at Pedro Menendez High School, St. Augustine, Fla., with  about half concentrating on masonry.
Al Crutchfield teaches about 80 students a year in the building construction technology program at Pedro Menendez High School, St. Augustine, Fla., with about half concentrating on masonry.

“I probably use my coaching experience when teaching more than I realize,” said Al Crutchfield. “I try to build a ‘team concept' in my classroom. I'm confident that the students believe in the value of the program, and I suppose that if I jumped off a bridge, they'd be right behind me.”

Using another phase of his background, Crutchfield relies on his scouting experience to keep the program organized, yet fun, for the young participants.

A masonry instructor for 18 years, Crutchfield joined the building construction technology program at Pedro Menendez High School, St. Augustine, Fla., in 2003. The program offers an introduction to electrical, plumbing, carpentry, and masonry. Crutchfield teaches Masonry I-V and Building Construction Technology I-V.

“I was hired as a masonry instructor, but found out that not everyone wanted to be in that field. By teaching an intro to electrical and plumbing, I keep more kids coming back. I am, however, very heavy on masonry in all my classes,” Crutchfield stressed. As a result of his emphasis on masonry, Crutchfield has taught the Florida state masonry champion each of the past three years.

Spicing up curriculum

“Remember,” Crutchfield said, “that these are high school students. Most of them don't yet know what they want to do, so you have to keep it fun. You have to ‘mix it up' to keep them interested and coming back. For example, we've added tile and concrete work to the masonry program. It makes the day more interesting and appeals to more students.”

Crutchfield also uses a special project each quarter to maintain interest. “It's a theme, and I build the instruction around it,” he said. “We've done the brick on Habitat for Humanity houses, enclosed the baseball and softball dugouts at our school, and worked with local contractors. Our next project is to build a memorial wall around the flag pole at the school's football stadium.”

“This quarter we are building a two-sided lacrosse practice wall,” Crutchfield stated. “It is 10-ft high, built of block, and has an overhead “H” shape. A project such as this focuses the students' attention.”

For each project, Crutchfield has students read blueprints and estimate the cost of the project (materials, labor, profit, etc.). “It's a good way to sneak in a little math,” Crutchfield said. He uses Home Depot gift cards as prizes.

“I like using the competitive element,” the teacher pointed out, “because most of the students respond to the challenge. I tell them the first day of class about participating in the SkillsUSA program and competing on a variety of levels. I point out the older students and graduates who have done that and been successful. As many as 50% of each class shows interest and ultimately competes at some level. It's like sports in that you practice for competition, and practice makes you a better performer.”

Supporting the program

Crutchfield is grateful to Al Herndon of the Florida Masonry Apprentice and Education Foundation. “Without Herndon we would not have a SkillsUSA competition in Florida,” Crutchfield explained. “It starts with our regional showcase, and then the state competition. He puts it together, making sure all the materials are in place, and works with the judges.”