Jared Fullerton has fond memories of his years as a student at South Lake High School, where he took particular interest in the construction program. A natural with a hammer and nail, he built forts and skateboard ramps in his spare time. So, a class that allowed him more hands-on opportunities tapped into his interests and made learning fun.
It also gave him a viable skill. After graduating from South Lake in 2001 and spending two years studying at Lake-Sumter State College, he went on to earn a degree in Building Construction from the University of Florida. He worked several years in the industry and now has returned to South Lake High School, home of the Eagles, to reenergize the construction program for a new generation of students.
“I want to teach my students the things I know will set them apart when it’s time for them to look for jobs,” Fullerton said. And he should know. He worked construction on popular projects at local theme parks including the Frozen Ever After attraction in Epcot at Walt Disney World, the Toy Story Land attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction at Universal Studios and several Central Florida schools.
“I’m trying to excite the kids with information about careers that are available,” he said. “When high school ends, if there isn’t a clear path to college, that’s fine. Let’s get ready for a career that pays well.”
Construction is a booming business and local industry professionals have said they often struggle to find skilled workers. To help meet the need, Lake County Schools recently revitalized the Construction Academy at Leesburg High School and last year received more than $800,000 in state funding to support that effort. This week, the students there broke ground on a home they will build in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter.
The Leesburg effort was received so positively that the district received more state funding for a construction academy at Eustis High School, which launched this year.
The South Lake program opened in the 1990s, but lay dormant as student interest waned and instructors came and went. Now with Fullerton’s return to the “Eagles’ nest,” fueled by his expertise in the industry and his love for his alma mater, the program is ready to take off again. So far, four seniors, 28 juniors and 100 sophomores and freshmen have signed up. They are supported by the school’s administration; the district’s College & Career Readiness team; and iBuild Central Florida, a local organization that brings the construction industry together with educational partners, including public schools, technical centers and colleges. Another powerful asset in South Lake’s corner is their strong and active advisory council of dedicated professionals that guide and aid the program locally.
“When I was working in construction, what I found most rewarding was teaching the people who were working for me, helping them grow,” Fullerton said. “I came across the job at South Lake and I thought about that. I thought about the class I was in when I was student. I saw a real need, and I was at a point in my life where I wanted to make a decision.”
The students are learning about tools and safety. Soon, they will build corn-hole tables. Next, following the Leesburg High School model, they will build picnic tables they can sell as a fundraiser. They will also repair and build a few minor things around campus.
The goal is to make it fun and practical, while giving students the industry-standard skills to meet the high demand, high wage needs of the construction industry.
“I know what the industry is looking for,” Fullerton said. “I lived it every day. I know what it’s like to need to hire people and then not be able to find people for the jobs. I want my students to be ready for those jobs.”