A plumber with Stuart Plumbing shows LPD Trade Academy students how to work on a hot water heater. | Kimberly C. Moore, LkldNow

Fabianie Joseph, 13, sat at a table in the Tenoroc High School cafeteria with a team of three boys, quickly taping down a piece of paper as they all scrambled to put together a building made of paper that would withstand “wind” and “earthquakes ” — or Emily Breheny, an architect from The Lunz Group, and DhaRheanne Sanders, a designer with the firm, fanning the structure and shaking the table.

“We need more tape!” Fabianie, a student at Discovery Academy in Lake Alfred, told her teammates as the clock was winding down. In the end, what looked a little like a five-columned Greek temple, complete with a pitched roof, withstood Breheny’s best efforts to topple it.

The project was part of the Lakeland Police Department’s second annual Summer Trades Academy, a free, two-week construction camp for 50 students in grades 8-12 of all backgrounds and skill levels.

It was held this year at Tenoroc High School from June 5-16. 

The camp was organized by Lakeland Police Lt. Joe Parker, who is also a commercial superintendent in construction. LPD has partnered with Polk County Public Schools to run the program each year.

Keeping kids out of trouble

Parker and the late retired LPD Sgt. Edgar Pickett, who built his own home, designed the camp to teach high-school students a little bit about all the skilled trades, including architecture, engineering, interior design (which is not decorating), carpentry, metalwork, welding, masonry, painting, plumbing, electrical work and roofing. And also to keep them out of trouble.

“I knew firsthand how hard it was and is to find good skilled help. With the spikes in juvenile crime every summer, I wanted to develop a worthwhile program to give the high-school-aged kids an option to stay out of the streets,” said Parker, noting that then-Chief Ruben Garcia urged Parker to speak with Pickett about a program.

“We talked about it and thought a trades program would be a great opportunity to build our own workforce in our own community. A great way to build our police/young-citizen relationship. And a great way to build an investment between local businesses and the youth,” Parker explained.

“It’s a community effort to make our young people contributing members of society. A good way to let everyone take a bit of ownership stake in the success of our young people.”

Lakeland Police Lt. Joe Parker

Parker was named officer of the year in 2017 by the Polk County Police Chiefs Association and received the Hometown Hero Award from Woodmen of the World for saving a stabbing victim from bleeding to death.

He also knows the hardship of a tough childhood, one of four children raised by a single father who taught Parker carpentry.  At one point they were homeless.

Building Skills

Parker might not be a teacher by trade, but he intuitively knew a teaching technique called, coincidentally, scaffolding. You teach one skill and then another and another, building on each one until a student has a whole skillset.

Each day at the camp was devoted to a different trade, with two field trips to see buildings under construction at the end of the two weeks. Campers also worked on a tiny house at Tenoroc High School each day. Their schedule included:

  • Day 1 – Tour of Tenoroc High School’s Electrical Academy and an introduction to building materials and tools.
  • Day 2 – Architecture, interior design, blueprints and construction math
  • Day 3 – Concrete and masonry
  • Day 4 – Steel construction, welding and fabrication. After lunch, electrical and wiring
  • Day 5 – Plumbing and HVAC
  • Day 6 – Roofing, drywall and finishing
  • Day 7 – Painting, windows and glass
  • Day 8 – Build day in the shop and resume writing
  • Day 9 – Field trip to Orlando International Airport and Brightline maintenance facility
  • Day 10 – Field Trip to Hulbert Homes and graduation ceremony

Parker and his LPD colleagues, along with a visit from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, hammered in the idea of making and keeping friends and how those relationships can evolve into professional and personal help.

Andy Norman, who owns GMF Steel, was one of Parker’s classmates at Lakeland Senior High School. He sent a company representative to speak on the fourth day of the camp.

Building relationships

On the second day, Parker invited his Harrison School for the Arts buddy, Brad Lunz, to talk to the students about his chosen career – architecture.  But Lunz took it a step farther and brought in multiple people from his team at The Lunz Group, which has offices in Lakeland, Winter Haven and Celebration.

After graduation in 1993, Parker joined the U.S. Army. Lunz went to the Savannah College of Art and Design.

“You have to know how a building is put together,” Lunz told the students. “Architecture isn’t just buildings — it really opens up how you see the world.”

Lunz joined his father’s architectural firm in 2008. He and the firm have worked on such notable structures as The Summit Building, multiple projects at LEGOLAND, the NOAA headquarters at Lakeland Linder International Airport, the Christoverson Humanities Building and the Jean and Sal Campisi Sr. Academic Center for Physical Therapy at Florida Southern College — both with distinctive red support columns.

He cautioned that, unlike playing a video game, there is no instant gratification in architecture. It takes about seven years to see a project from the first pen on a piece of paper — or line on a computer screen — to the ribbon-cutting at the front doors.

“It’s one of the slowest-moving, methodical professions,” Lunz said.  “We help someone birth their own baby.”

One student asked Parker and Lunz how much math was involved in building. Parker said a good deal, but it becomes second nature.

“The math that I used every day, I didn’t even think about it as algebra,” Parker said.  “When I was in school, I hated math, but it was something I used every day growing up.”

Lunz admitted that he failed his first calculus class in college, explaining that it started at 7:45 a.m., five days a week.

PCPS’ Career Academies teach trades

Elijah Sullivan, 14, has been a student at Lakeland Christian Preparatory Academy.  His mother, Renee Sullivan, enrolled him in the camp after watching Mike Rowe videos.  Rowe is the star of the Discovery Channel Show “Dirty Jobs,” and is a longtime advocate for students learning a skilled trade. His foundation offers scholarships to trade schools.

“We recognize that a good education doesn’t always require a four-year degree,” Rowe says on his website. “That’s why we look for people who aren’t afraid to learn a useful skill and work their butts off.”

After learning from LkldNow that Polk County Public Schools has an award-winning Career Academies program, Sullivan said she is hoping to enroll all four of her sons in them. The district offers certification programs in everything from electrical linemen to architecture, construction and engineering to design. There are also courses in the culinary arts, media design, agriculture and more.

“My idea of them turning 18 and having a trade and a diploma would be a dream come true,” Sullivan said. “They could each take up a trade and build each other’s houses.”

Her husband works as a handyman at Carpenter’s home and she has already had her sons on top of their house to help with installing a new roof.

Elijah asked Lunz about a business plan and also if he would change anything about the classroom they were sitting in, with its white cinderblock walls, bulletin boards, acoustic ceiling tiles and non-slip floor tiles.

Lunz explained that public schools are built by the lowest bidder to save taxpayer money and designed as both institutional learning environments and also as hurricane shelters that can withstand 150 mile-per-hour winds.

“We don’t spend enough on education,” Lunz said.  “You want a bland mind, create a bland classroom.”

Elijah said he attended the summer camp reluctantly at first, but then had an epiphany.

“I realized this is a really big opportunity to learn some stuff,” he said.

Students with different dreams

Fabianie Joseph talked with Lunz after his presentation.  The high school freshman said she is interested in joining the U.S. military and then becoming an architect. She learned of the summer program and applied herself after speaking with her mother.

“I was reading a book and a character was an architect,” she said when asked what piqued her interest. She then checked out other books on Greek architecture and eventually did a school project on the subject.

Parker said they take a lot into consideration when they choose the students for the program, including the students’ zip codes and race. They also look for girls to enroll.

DeShaun Moore, 16, was another student whose mother made him attend the program. He has gotten into some trouble in the last few years and she was hoping to keep him occupied and learning something.

“It was a surprise to me,” DeShaun said.  “She told me Wednesday. She didn’t tell me what it was. I really didn’t want to come here, but since I found out what it was — a trade — it’s OK.”

DeShaun said he dreams of having a large home and a large piece of property one day so “I could build things for animals.” He also said he wants to have a day job, possibly in plumbing or a nursing home or hospital, so he can “help people.”

Parker said he hopes students whose mothers signed them up look at it with a different attitude.

“Why do you think your mama made you do this?” he asked the students.  “Why do you think people are wanting to help you?”

Parker, his law enforcement colleagues and the tradespeople all volunteered their time.  In addition, Parker got local restaurants to donate lunches each day to feed the hungry horde of teenagers.

“It helps. If the community wants a homegrown, skilled workforce, they need to pitch in and help,” Parker said.

For some of the kids in the class, Parker said it’s “short-term crime prevention by way of keeping kids off the streets, and long-term crime prevention by putting them on a path to discover personal accountability, work ethic, morals, social responsibility and education —  although it may not be classical college education.”

Tradesmen volunteer to help

Chris Shills of Curry and Company Plumbing said he started out as a new plumber apprentice 30 years ago.  He said the pay is great.

“Starting out, you can make $16 to $18 an hour and after four or five years plus, you’re in the  $25- to $30-an-hour range,” Shills said, noting that’s more than $60,000 a year.

Steve Chasteen of Curry Plumbing learned the trade alongside his father and he is now teaching his son Zach – the third generation of plumbers.

Stuart Baldick of Stuart Plumbing showed off a rigid 36-inch pipe wrench to Akari Watson, 14, of McKeel Academy and Railen Ramirez, 14, who attends Harrison.

“That’s a $400 tool,” Baldick said of the heavy wrench.  “It’s 80 years old— they last forever.”

On the ninth day of the program, Parker utilized another longtime friendship. He had been looking for a field trip for the kids, but coming up empty handed.  He spotted someone wearing a SKANSKA t-shirt, which jarred a memory and he looked up someone he worked with 20 years ago in Orlando — Matt Breen.

“I did a little research and found Matt had started his own business, Breen Construction Services,” Parker said. “Of course, I shot over an email and we soon spoke on the phone. He was immediately on board to help. He is helping manage the latest Orlando International Airport expansion project, which includes the Brightline high-speed rail system, C-concourse expansion and a Jet Blue hangar.”

Parker took the students over to OIA and they got to walk out to the edge of a runway as planes were taking off and landing, see the new concourse under construction, and tour the Brightline facility.

“I thought it was pretty darn cool to reach out to Matt all these years later and see how excited and happy to help he was,” Parker said.

As for the students, there might be a payoff for a few.

“Several of them have spoken to the instructors already about interest in working for them,” Parker said. “I know the block mason said he was going to hire two of them.”

This story has been updated. Brittany Prevatt was misidentified in a photograph.

SEND CORRECTIONS, questions, feedback or news tips: newstips@lkldnow.com


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Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at kimberly@lkldnow.com or 863-272-9250.

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1 Comment

  1. I love this program was brought to fruition. We should promote the trades to the students and others. A lot is in place for those that plan to go to college. So many can’t afford college, these days. While college is an honorable path to a good paying job, so is the training for the Trades, Skilled Workers. It is a preparation for life that doesn’t receive enough attention.

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