“Having worked overseas and with tradespeople from all over the world, I came to discover that the perception of the trades in the US is relatively unique in the western world. In Australia, for example, a career in the trades is universally regarded as a perfect alternative to university and a professional career. Tradesmen there, not unlike the US, can make a lot of money but unlike the US they are given a tremendous amount of respect.”
For the past two years, Joshua Overman has taught construction and advanced manufacturing at New Orleans Charter Science and Math High School also known as “Sci High”, which was the first high school to reopen after Hurricane Katrina. As a third-generation builder and master carpenter, Overman is passionate about sharing his knowledge and expertise with the next generation of tradespeople, especially as the school breaks ground on a new facility and expands to increase student enrollment.
Overman joined the Air Force when he was 17, went on to study furniture making and then started his own construction company. He has built large commercial buildings, multi-million-dollar homes in Australia, boats, movie and fashion runway sets, props and geodesic domes. With his diverse knowledge, certifications in National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) and Carpenters International Training Fund (CITF) carpentry, numerous stories, and a prodigious critical problem-solving skills, Overman runs his classroom like a job site. He teaches in order to advance the trades, see the satisfaction and confidence that students have standing next to their completed project, and economically empower his students to find meaningful work and well-paying jobs.
Despite having 83% of students qualify for free or reduced meals and first-year students entering high school with 3rd to 5th grade math and reading skills, this open enrollment charter school has one of Louisiana’s highest graduation rates and the Career & Technical Education department is the fastest growing in the school. Overman incorporates experimentation into every lesson and creates a climate that recognizes the value of learning from errors through reflection. Students keep daily build notes in their project notes and complete blog entries after every major project, reflecting on what skills they learned, what went right, what went wrong, and how they would improve.
All of Overman’s senior students have gone on to college or community college, and sophomores and juniors continued their enrollment in the carpentry program. He has helped students with special needs work their International Baccalaureate in carpentry and go on to continue their carpentry careers. Many of his students will be the first in their families to graduate from high school and secure high-wage, stable careers with the skills to lift themselves out of poverty, tear down historical barriers, and change a city one block at a time.
“As student and parent interest grows in the work that we are doing, my program is expected to triple in size. We are creating real, immediate opportunities for these kids, their families, and the New Orleans community.”