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Take 14 teens, and what do you get? A new house for Habitat for Humanity
Flowery Branch High students Tyler Hall, top, and Jon Duncan frame a doorway Monday afternoon at a Habitat for Humanity home being constructed on Cooley Drive. The group of students are part of a team of other Hall County students who are building the house on site through a joint program with Hall County Habitat for Humanity.

Most afternoons, a group of 14 Hall County high school students will not be found in the classroom. But they are still nailing their grades.

Construction students from Chestatee, Johnson, West Hall and Flowery Branch High School leave school every day to work for a good cause and school credit.

By the end of the semester, the students will have completed their course work: a four-bedroom house with two bathrooms for Habitat for Humanity.

In its second semester, the Habitat High program gives high school students the opportunity to gain real-world experience while learning about community service. Like a real job, the students had to apply, provide references and be interviewed for the program.

"These guys are really super," said Parke Hardgrove, a retired construction teacher who oversees the Habitat High program. "I mean, they come down here, and they work for nothing. ... They do get high school credit, but it’s work."

Hardgrove, known as "Mr. H" on the construction site, expresses pride in his students, some of whom helped complete a three-bedroom house in the program last semester.

"I think they take ownership in it because they’re actually building it," Hardgrove said. "When you build something, and it’s real, and you see people are really going to live in it — they take ownership in how it’s built.

"They do a very good job," Hardgrove said.

A lot of the students say the program is a good chance to get away from trite, textbook-taught classes.

Josh Davidson, a 16-year-old junior at Chestatee High School, said his friends are jealous of him, because he gets out of school every day at noon.

"I thought it would be really interesting, compared to sitting in the classroom and just writing all the time," said Cameron Fessler, a junior at West Hall High School." "So I thought just actually getting out there and getting the experience would be good,"

Before he joined the Habitat High program, Fessler had a birdhouse and some shelves in a utility shed to show for his two construction classes.

"That’s about all the action I got," Fessler said.

Sure, one of the benefits is getting out of school, but it’s also good to work on a real project that helps others, said Tyler Hall, a 17-year-old senior at Flowery Branch High School who is working on his second house with Habitat High. When he graduates at the end of the semester, Hall plans to either work for the fire department or work in the construction field.

"I think it’s a pretty good idea they put the program together to help the less fortunate," Hall said.

Fessler intends on going to college when he graduates from high school.

"Even if I don’t end up going into this, this kind of experience helps through the rest of your life," Fessler said.

There is no question the 14-teenager crew is learning about construction, and they are finding it is not as easy as it looks.

Fessler is on his first house, but he says that the worst thing about the work is laying the brick foundation.

"I thought it was going to be much better, then it came out and smacked me in the face," Fessler said.

Other guys in the crew agree.

"I didn’t think it’d be that hard, but it’s pretty complicated," Davidson said.

But Hall said that he learned when he built the first Habitat High house last semester that the hardest part of residential construction is cutting vinyl siding.

"I sat there for like two months and just cut vinyl, cut vinyl," Hall said. "I told them I don’t want nothing to do with it this time."

However difficult some of the construction tasks prove to be, some of the guys say the cause is worth the struggle.

"That’s the main reason why I want to do it — just to help people out," Davidson said.