In 2015, Windsor’s F. J. Brennan Catholic High School launched their masonry lab in cooperation with the Canadian Masonry Contractors Association and the Ontario Masonry Contractors’ Association, along with the OMTC.
Behind the program is Marko Senjanin. His diverse educational and career background has led to his current role with the Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board as the masonry technology teacher at F. J. Brennan Catholic High School. This program is the first of its kind in Canada and has been so successful that similar programs are starting to be launched in other regions.
We took some time to sit down with Marko to understand his thoughts on the importance of experiential learning and how it relates to this program.
Marko, thanks for joining us today. Would you be able to start off by telling us a bit about this program.
This program is unique to Brennan. We were the first to launch this kind of program in Canada in 2015 and it has been a success ever since. The Ministry of Education is now looking to expand this program to Kitchener-Waterloo, Peel and Ottawa.
It’s so nice to know that we started this program first. When students begin in this program they don’t know what a trowel is, they’ve heard of mortar and they know what bricks are. Students are required to build a project as part of their final exam. By grade 12, students have to brick up a full wall. I make sure they follow the proper codes throughout the process. I would say that is my main goal, getting kids that never touched a trowel or brick before in their life, to actually building a full out project that we can be proud of.
What type of training did you have to go through in order to be able to lead such a unique program?
First you had to have a tech qualification. When I worked in mould making I was also in design too and that gave me that edge to have that tech design qualification. Additionally, I taught tech design back at Holy Names High School. When I was hired for the position the stipulation was that I would need to be sent to the Ontario Masonry Training Centre in Mississauga.
When I was there I did level 1 training with 19 other apprentices. After the 8-week program I could build a block and brick wall. The training centre donated the tools, boots and required PPE with a value of just over $25 000. Santerra Stonecraft donates all the bricks, blocks and sand.
After my training I was given the rest of the semester to set up the shop. I did my designs on Auto-CAD, which helped me figure out where things like plumbing and electrical needed to go. I needed to determine where to have the storage area, mixing area, saw area and the crib. I’ve tried to design and make our work spaces comfortable as possible for the students.
I had no other programs to consult when I was creating the projects. I had to be creative with making assignments and timelines.
What would you say are the main skills that students learn from taking these classes?
I would say the main one is the trowel skill, that’s the biggest one, just knowing how to use the trowel, and how to spread the mortar properly. Also learning how to use the level properly, how to use a measuring tape and how to cut bricks. Students need to understand how to make things level, plumb and straight. Students in grade 9 and 10 learn how to do measurements in the metric system and in grade 11 and 12 they learn the imperial system. Grade 11 and 12 students also learn how to use the masonry saw and we can teach them how to make ¼ or ¾ cuts. Students wear proper safety equipment such as hard hats, face shields and glasses while using the saw.
What do students enjoy most about this program?
The majority of them like using their hands. They are not at a desk; they’re up and moving around. With the trowel skills, they’re laying the bricks. It’s always physical. The class is more geared towards the ones that want to do an apprenticeship after, the ones that know they don’t want to go to university. They love getting dirty and working with their hands. They also enjoy actually getting that sense of accomplishment after building a wall.
What career path or paths could taking this class lead to for students?
One of my students wants to do carpentry and another wants to do tool and tie. I had a grade 11 student who wanted to go into civil engineering so he thought it would be a good idea to take this course now to gain hands on experience working with bricks and seeing how they are laid so that he can better understand the work behind designs he will make in the future. I think it is good to develop a little more appreciation for what masons do. The course is really meant for those who are apprenticeship driven or if you want to get into engineering, or simply taking a fun class.
How do co-op and OYAP relate to this program?
We have the option for grade 11 and 12 students to take part in the Construction Academy, which is a partnership with St. Joe’s High School. Students have to apply and get accepted to be able to take part in that program. The students used to travel between the two schools to learn about carpentry and masonry, in addition to taking required courses. With the new model coming in September of 2018, masonry students will be based out of FJ Brennan High School, and carpentry students will be based out of St. Joe’s High School.
In second semester, they take part in placements through OYAP and are able to count their placement hours towards their apprenticeship. Students usually have between 1000–1500 hours that accumulate in addition to completing Level 1 training. Additionally, when they graduate they will receive a red seal on their diploma as part of the Specialist High Skills Major program, and will have done training for CPR, First Aid, Working at Heights, Confined Space, and Rigging and Hoisting.
Employers have said that some of their own staff members don’t have all of the certifications and training that our students graduate with. These students are very employable and employers are taking advantage by giving these students opportunities to start working on building, bricklaying and framing right away.
Next year we are going to start a Construction-Masonry Specialist High Skills Major program. I am currently recruiting for that. The extra funding from this project will allow us to do more things out in the community and take students on additional field trips.
What opportunities do grade 9 and 10 students have available to them?
Grade 9 students have the option of taking a tech course called Exploring Technologies where they are introduced to transportation, structures, health and safety, design and masonry. Since masonry falls under the construction umbrella I take them in the shop once or twice a week. Grade 10 students have the option to take a masonry course.
Is there anything we haven’t asked you that you would like to share?
I’ve had a bit of a journey to get to this role. When I was 18 I went right into mould making for 6 years. During that time, I completed my apprenticeship and I currently hold my Certificate of Qualification (CofQ), which is similar to a Red-Seal. From there, I decided I wanted to go back to school, so I went into Mechanical Engineering at St. Clair College. After that I went to Wayne State University and upgraded to a Bachelors of Science in Mechanical Engineering (B.Sc).
When I finished up there I started teacher’s college in the Primary/ Junior division. It was fun, I enjoyed it but it truly wasn’t for me because I had the engineering and technological mind-set. So when I finished teacher’s college I started teaching sessionally at St. Clair, teaching math, physics, blueprint reading and CNC Machining.
In order to have a full time position there I needed to have my master’s degree, so I returned to the University of Windsor for my Master’s in Education (M.Ed). For a time, I was supply teaching with the school board and teaching at St. Clair at the same time, transitioned to full time at the school board, back to the college and then back to the school board. It was at that time that I applied for this position. If you had told me that I would be masonry teacher back when I was 18, I’m not sure that I would believe you!
You can follow Marko’s masonry teaching adventures on twitter at: @FJBMasonry
Check out this Windsor Star video clip to hear Marko and have a close up look at his masonry shop: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfkyffF4Zuw
More information on recruiting apprentices at the high school level: http://www.weconstructionacademy.ca/uploads/1/0/8/7/10872485/skivsky.pdf
Learn more about the construction academy here: http://www.weconstructionacademy.ca/
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