Brittany Peckham & Sidney Faris
When most people think of construction workers, they may picture brawny guys in hardhats, flannel shirts and steel-toed boots at a construction site. But Fairmont junior Sidney Faris is doing her part to change that vision.
Faris decided she wanted to cross those imaginary lines of gender-stereotyped classes by enrolling in the two-year Construction Trades program in the Career Tech Center.
Faris says that building is something she’s loved ever since she was little. She enjoyed building and fixing different things with her grandfather, and as a child, she built her own treehouse and a doghouse, as well as jewelry boxes and bird houses.
“My favorite memory as a kid was watching my papaw build machines and visiting construction sites with him,” Faris said. “It’s had a big influence on me and why I’ve become so interested in this field.”
The Construction Trades students work on various projects focusing on building for the school and community. They typically do smaller projects including sheds, boxes, decks, and a variety of work for the city. Recently, the class has been working at South Unit Principal Tyler Alexander’s house and in the Fairmont Courtyard.
On the first day of school, Faris said she walked into the Construction Trades room nervously with her heart beating fast. She said she was scared that the boys would look down upon or treat her a lot differently since she would be the only girl in the class.
“Sidney is very strong-willed and isn’t much for being walked on,” said senior Andrew Dyer, one of Faris’ classmates. “Her being a girl does not change the dynamics of anything. Everyone expects each other to work and she does very well. I have no doubt in her success in Construction Trades.”
And the program instructor says Faris has no reason to be intimidated, despite being a 5-foot-2 female in a testosterone-filled atmosphere.
“Sidney hasn’t had any problems with the guys,” Construction Trades teacher Zachary Pickens said. “She actually works well with them and fits right in. In my three years of teaching here at Fairmont, I haven’t had any female students besides Sidney taking Construction. She works really hard and is willing to try anything. Sidney’s always the first to volunteer to do stuff. It’s a bit different but in a good way.”
Faris recognizes that many girls would shy away from a construction class, perhaps preferring programs such as Early Childhood Development or Allied Health. But the junior says that type of stuff just isn’t her forte.
“I’ve always loved building stuff,” she said. “And the class is really fun — visiting jobsites, doing personal hand-on projects, cutting wood, learning to build, and other basic projects.”
She chose to take this class because when she’s older, she has aspirations of becoming an architect or construction manager.
Faris says it’s much different working with all males for three periods a day and it’s nowhere near an “average” high school class. She says that it’s been a bit of a challenge adjusting to it all, but it’s not as difficult as she’d expected.
Pickens said he loves that Faris was able to muster up enough courage to do what she wanted to do, despite the perception that the Construction Trades program is for guys only. He says she works hard, and that seems to push the guys to work harder as well. “Her interest and curiosity is great. She’s a good worker.”
Fairmont Career Tech Coordinator Liz Jensen also applauds Faris for breaking the stereotype.
“I don’t know Sidney personally, but I think it’s a very good move to be in that type of class. It can be hard, but good. It’s important for students nowadays to learn to work with different kinds of people, and how to have appropriate workplace behaviors for when they’re older,” Jensen said.
Jensen said she thinks Sidney took on something positive that will help improve not only her construction skills, but her social skills as well.
“Workplaces nowadays want to hire people who aren’t just traditional to help with diversity. As a personal example, a man worked at my son’s daycare and my son really looked up to him as a male role-model,” Jensen said.
“More schools should allow their students to cross over those lines and students should have their choice of what courses they want to take,” Jensen said. “Everyone should look into opening up those barriers if they want, but it’s a case-by-case scenario.”
Several weeks into the two-year program, Faris said she feels more confident and is glad she decided to sign up for Construction Trades.
“Basically, live your life how you want,” she said. “Pursue your dreams, go through with your goals, and don’t worry about what other people think of you.”
Overall, she believes this experience has been to her advantage.
“Being the only girl in Construction Trades has impacted me a lot. I know what I’m capable of and even if I’m a girl, I can still do a good job like everyone else. It’ll help me later on,” Faris said.
“And to anyone wanting to join a class or club that’s gender-stereotyped, go for it,” Faris said. “You shouldn’t be nervous, because it doesn’t matter what people think of you at the end of the day. Treat people equally and prove to them you can do it.”