ORHS Serves as Pilot-School for ACE NH

15 Oyster River High School students are embarking on a two-month project where they will learn hands on, real-life skills associated with architecture, construction, and engineering as they relate to the Moharimet Elementary School renovation project.

Oyster River High School is serving as the New Hampshire pilot school for the opening of the ACE Mentor Program of NH. Having begun on March 6th, 2019, the 15 ORHS students will partake in a program that will run until May 1st, 2019, with a mission of designing their own version of the Moharimet Elementary School entryway renovation project. The students will be engaged in the project with industry professionals and may receive Extended Learning Opportunity (ELO) credit for their participation. 

The ACE (Architecture – Construction – Engineering) mentor program is a national not-for-profit 501(c)3 and free after-school program. “Their goal is to make partnerships with kids at the high school age, who might be interested in these fields, and give them a mentor, and hopefully start to show kids that you can really make a decent career if your interest is in one of these areas,” says Mark Milliken, Dean of Faculty at ORHS. The program is also designed to help businesses in the ACE fields potentially scout out workers for the future.

The national ACE program currently works with over 9,000 students from over 1,000 high schools that participate annually, according to the “about us” page on acementor.org. Since this project is the NH pilot program, it is shortened from the typical September-May program length. With its participation this year, NH becomes the 38th state to have an ACE mentor program.

As an extra incentive to participate in this program, the 15 students may be able to receive an ELO credit. This gives students an added bonus to an after school program. For the industry professionals, this also helps with bringing new ACE talent to the table for the future.

“[The construction field] is an area with a huge need, so if they can start scouting out high school aged kids that are really interested and really involved, then they start to truly get them involved in engineering,” says Sean Peschel, ORHS ELO Coordinator.

The group sessions began on March 6th. Sessions are meetings that occur once a week for eight weeks, after school from 3:30-5:30 typically. Each session will be something different. “[They will be] looking mostly at architectural engineering, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, some construction, project management, budgeting, finance, accounting, so the whole gamut of a building project,” says Peschel.

Students in the group will be working alongside industry professionals to get a real-world view of what goes into a project of this magnitude. “Each aspect will be hands-on, and real, and be working with someone in the fields,” adds Milliken.

After eight weeks for students in the program, the hope is that they have been inspired to further pursue a career in one of the fields involved with ACE.

Brian Knox is a co-chair for ACE NH and is fully involved with the ORHS program. Just over two years ago, he was able to meet with the ACE Regional and National Board of Directors to promote New Hampshire interest in an ACE program. After getting the approval, the program began to take shape around July 2018. There was a meeting at PROCON, an award-winning architectural and construction management firm, where a handful of interested schools and mentors attended to hear a pitch from the ACE NH board. Among those in attendance was ORHS’s Peschel.

With an evolving and expanding ELO program, Peschel and ORHS administration saw the potential collaboration with ACE NH as a great partnership opportunity. “The benefit of partnering with outside industries will be huge, so students that are really interested in those three fields could get future employment from it and future internship opportunities,” says Peschel.

The school and ACE NH agreed to commit to each other, and the planning process began.

“It seemed like a good fit, and our school was receptive, so they’re piloting it in NH, starting with Oyster River,” says Milliken. “Most of the kids here are focused on college, but that’s not the case for everybody. This is a way to emphasize an alternative.”

For ACE NH the task then became picking the project for its pilot program. After district wide Homeland Security inspections aimed at security precautions specifically at entryways, Moharimet Elementary School in Madbury did not meet Department of Homeland Security safety standards. “[The] Moharimet renovation and addition was a real project that the community was trying to approve, and ACE NH & ORHS looked at the size of the project and thought it was reasonable. It was also local to some of the high school students, so they had some familiarity there, as some of them may have gone to elementary school at Moharimet. It just seemed to make the most sense,” says Knox.

Proposed floor plan of Moharimet Elementary School renovation.

Knox and the ACE NH team came to ORHS for a lunch-in-learn to start generating student interest, and then held an Open House which served as an informational event for both parents and students, and nearly 50 attended before registration began.

After the registration deadline on January 11th, 2019, 14 ORHS students had signed up to be a part of the ACE NH Mentor program. There are now 15 students participating in the up-and-running program.

While Oyster River is the first school in New Hampshire to be involved, it is not the only school interested. There are currently six additional schools in the Granite State who are awaiting approval for similar partnerships on projects with ACE NH.

Knox explained his hopes for the future of ACE NH, saying, “[the] ultimate goal is to branch out to as many high schools in the state of NH as possible. It won’t happen in the next two years, but in the meantime, it’s meeting the immediate need. We will continue to have a program at ORHS for years to come, eventually evolving so that seniors in the ACE Mentor Program can compete [on project competitions] at a regional and national level, which provides them with a lot more opportunities for scholarships and continued schooling in the ACE fields.”

As skilled and experienced workers are a pivotal part of the construction industry, Oyster River and ACE NH have teamed up to attempt to provide students with as many career opportunities in the fields of architecture, construction, and engineering as possible.