Most days you’ll find Jennifer Warrner teaching technical communications to Ball State University students in construction management courses.
But on Wednesday afternoons, she transforms into a kindergarten teacher surrounded by 20 tiny charges, all sitting crisscross applesauce on the carpet and watching with wide eyes as she reads children’s books about building and demolition.
“When I build a house, students, what’s that called?” she asks. “It’s resi … resi …”
“-dential!” the little voices pipe up.
“That’s right. Residential. Let’s say it together.”
Warrner, assistant lecturer in construction management, has been volunteering in Jeanne Laspina’s Longfellow Elementary School classroom for 15 years. She began as a sophomore at Ball State and never stopped. Since 2016, she’s been teaching Let’s Build, a curriculum she devised herself, each semester using Ball State students as teachers helpers. The students build relationships with the Longfellow children as they glue models together and construct delicious snacks.
“Being involved in the community is important to me, and I also think it’s important that Ball State students are actively engaged in Muncie while they’re in college,” says Warrner. “Let’s Build is a great way for Ball State students to have a positive impact on elementary students in Delaware County. I’m consistently impressed by the work of the Ball State construction teachers.”
A Provost’s Immersive Learning Grant funds the program this year; past monies have come from Building Better Communities, and immersive learning mini grants from the College of Architecture and Planning and the now-defunct College of Science and Technology. Previous community partners have included the Ross Community Center, the Muncie Boys and Girls Club, and a local Girl Scout troop.
Ball State sophomore Hayden Castor, a construction management major from nearby Selma, Ind., is a middle child who looked up to his two older siblings as much as he enjoyed mentoring and teaching his two younger siblings. Those early lessons and the knowledge that the construction trades badly need more interested workers to fill job openings made him eager to join Warrner’s class.
“It’s fun to see the kids learn to count and to say their ABC’s and to tell them, ‘hey we use that in construction, and it’s really important,’” he says.
Laspina is thrilled that her kindergartners are learning new vocabulary words each week and getting some extra attention from the BSU students along with the free books Warrner’s grant monies supply. She says the children look forward to Let’s Build all week. “I tell them every Tuesday that tomorrow is construction day, and this week one little girl said, ‘I wish it was tomorrow now.’”