Columbia, Mo., teenagers spend summer repairing sidewalks

Monday, July 7, 2008

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- While some high school students work summer jobs serving sundaes at Dairy Queen or taking watch as a lifeguard at the local pool, three teens from Hickman High School are learning a trade as employees of the city of Columbia.

Until school resumes in August, Kyle Ledbetter, a recent graduate, and Hickman seniors Cori Hodgson and Chris Basnett are the primary workers on a four-man crew charged with repairing existing city sidewalks.

The job entails breaking up and removing cracked portions of sidewalks and then framing, pouring and smoothing concrete for new pavement. The crew also grinds down seams in existing sidewalks that are tripping hazards.

The three work from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and are paid $8.50 an hour, which "is better than minimum wage," Basnett said.

Aside from the benefit of employment, the job has the added perk of giving the students experience and skills in concrete work.

"It's nice because it's hands-on. You actually get to learn a trade," Ledbetter said. "You get experience doing something that's a real-life job."

Hodgson said since he started the job June 2, he's learned how to gauge the right amount of concrete to pour and how to smooth it before it sets. But the thing he likes best about the job is getting to be outside all day.

The crew was removing the concrete forms from a sidewalk it completed the day before on Cumberland Road before beginning work on another section in the neighborhood. Dressed in jeans, orange shirts with neon-yellow vests and work boots, the three worked together to take apart the wood and stakes of the concrete forms, stacking them in the nearby truck.

In a day, the crew can replace about 70 to 80 feet of sidewalk, said Billy Smith, a Public Works Department street crew member who supervises the students.

Jill Stedem, spokeswoman for the department, said the city worked with Hickman guidance counselors to find students interested in learning about that kind of work.

After graduating from high school next year, Hodgson said, he would like to pursue a career in something similar, maybe welding. Ledbetter said he is interested in a job that requires operating heavy equipment.

Basnett said he just wants to work. "Without this, I'd probably spend all summer at home, sleeping," he said.

Smith said he has enjoyed working with the guys and has appreciated having the extra help. He added that his student crew has been a quick study.

"They really catch on fast," Smith said. "Now I think they can do it all by themselves; they don't even need my help."

City Manager Bill Watkins said the program is one example of how the city is working to form mutually beneficial partnerships with other local organizations.

"We've got a lot of sidewalks, especially in the older areas of town, that needed fixing, and we had a little bit of money to do it this year," he said. "We were able to use existing equipment and hire some high school kids that needed summer work to help us with it, and we're getting some work done that we needed to get done."

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