Doug Drye's students are regular participants at the national SkillsUSA masonry  competition.
Doug Drye's students are regular participants at the national SkillsUSA masonry competition.

If winning competitions is any measure of a program's success, Doug Drye's efforts at Mount Pleasant High School, Mount Pleasant, N.C., exceeds the New York Yankees' success in baseball. Since 1989, the program has produced nine national masonry contest champions and two second-place finishers. That's quite an accomplishment for one high school with approximately 1000 students.

Doug Drye sponsored two contestants in the most recent state contest. Joshua Kimrey finished first in the High School (secondary) division, and Drye's son, Heath, placed second in the Post-Secondary division.

“My students come to me in the 10th grade,” said Drye, “and I get to work with them for three years. The students want to be in the program, want to be successful, and have a good academic and work ethic. And, they benefit from the intern program we put together with area contractors.”

The program typically enrolls 40 - 50 students each year. Drye has them for one semester during their sophomore year, and throughout their junior year. In their senior year, the masonry program incorporates significant on-the-job training through an internship program. Each year 8 - 10 students complete the program.

Drye emphasizes technical training and personal development. “I tell them that the most important thing you have is your name, and each student is no better than anyone else, but each is as good as anyone else.”

“When I have a problem student, I try to find out why. Usually, they see that I want to help them, so they respond and do better,” he stressed.

“I try to have a good relationship with each of my students, but I have to be careful not to create the impression that my classroom is a place to take it easy. By their second year, they have to be serious about the program,” Drye explained.

The instructor lays brick every summer “to stay in contact with the real world.” He recently completed an OSHA class “just to try to keep up on that area.”

Reflecting on the changes in masonry training during his 20 years, Drye said that there was more hands-on training in the classroom and practical application via community service projects in his early years as an instructor. He and his students did the brick work for the ambulance station in the community. They also worked on Habitat for Humanity homes, as well as residences for elderly and needy families. At the high school, they built an animal science barn, large storage facility, press box, dugouts, and other small projects.

“Then along came liability issues and block scheduling at our high school,” said Drye. “One of our responses was the development of partnerships with local contractors, masonry organizations, and businesses to develop an apprenticeship program in conjunction with the North Carolina Department of Labor.

“With the cooperation of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, masonry instructors, and contractors across the state, we participated in the development of a VOC-CATS testing program,” Drye stated proudly. “It tracks our teaching and student learning against a standardized curriculum.”

“Over time, we realized a need to incorporate more aspects of technical training, which includes estimating, blue print reading, safety, and properties of all masonry materials,” Drye explained.

Each year, SkillsUSA sponsors approximately 84 occupational and leadership competitions at the local, state, and national level, including masonry. The Carolinas Concrete Masonry Association, North Carolina Masonry Contractors Association, North Carolina Association of Masonry Instructors, and Brick Southeast make significant contributions of materials and financial sponsorships throughout the year. “They are very supportive of this effort, as well as the apprentice program,” he stated.

Reflecting on his 20 years as an instructor, Drye admitted, “I'm really proud of the accomplishments of the national contest participants and winners who have represented this program. I am very proud, too, of all the young men who have graduated from this program who now own their own companies or work productively in a masonry job. Many other kids over the years have said they would not have finished high school without our program. Maybe that's where we've made the greatest impact.”