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Construction skills, fair and square

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Eric Fort, front, uses a jigsaw to cut out the square’s that will hold the deck

Eric Fort, front, uses a jigsaw to cut out the square’s that will hold the deck posts while classmate Wade Heller holds the board still on Thursday. The board will be the last board on the edge of the deck and required a few tries to cut the three holes out just right.

As they braved the cold, snowy weather on Thursday, Buffalo High School students were marking, cutting and screwing down deck boards behind the large Victorian-style home of school counselor MaDonna Esponda.  

As part of a new “geometry in construction” class offered at Buffalo High School, students are building a wood deck for their final project, which will also feature exterior railings, a stairway and a back door.

“It is turning geometry, a classroom-oriented course, into an application-based course,” said construction teacher Clark Chesbro. 

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Left: Eric Fort’s cowboy hat became the quick home for a stray pencil as the group worked to place and screw in the boards of the deck. Center: Chesbro's grocery list served as the supply list of things, like screws, that the class needed to bring next time they came out to work on the deck. Right: Work gloves served as a tray holding as many screws as could fit while the boards were moved around. 

The class takes place over two periods and is taught by Chesbro and math teacher Keith Leppert. Leppert said he likes that the class allows the students to see the relevance of what they learn in the classroom.

“I have talked to so many people in the community who say, ‘Man, I wish I paid more attention in geometry because I use it all the time now,’” said Leppert. “Rather than waiting until after the fact, they are seeing firsthand how it is used in this class.”

After the students drew up plans and calculated the cost of the project, they gave Esponda an estimate. She approved it and bought the materials, and the students are now providing the labor.

“We are not trying to compete with carpenters in the community,” said Chesbro, “but we are trying to develop skills and kids who may go to work one day.”

Cole Baker’s sunglass frames as they secure the second board

A classmate’s reflection fills Cole Baker’s sunglass frames as they secure the second board onto the deck on Thursday. After removing the screws they rearranged the boards to allow them to start placing them from the posts moving in rather than from the edge of the house moving out.

Chesbro wanted to have a hands-on project for students to apply what they had learned in their math course, so he reached out to community members and found that Esponda needed a deck built.

The class started with a focus on at-risk students in credit recovery, but Chesbro said he wants to open the class to more students in the coming years.

“We would love to see this class grow,” said Chesbro, “and our goal is to have this class available for every kid to take geometry and use those skills in an application-based class.”

Students have been building the deck for a week, and Chesbro said he hopes to have the project finished by Dec. 18.

“We are excited about doing this project,” said Leppert, “and we have good support from the district and our administrators in developing the class.” 

Zane Ochs laughs as he removes a screw from the deck early

Zane Ochs laughs as he removes a screw from the deck early on in the class period on Thursday. The class comes to work on the project during all of their class periods and hopes to have most if not all of the project done before Christmas.

Keith Leppert pulls a board tight against the space

Buffalo High School math teacher Keith Leppert pulls a board tight against the spacer so that students can screw it in on Thursday. The deck is being built in the back of a house in town and the steps will be lead away from the door to the backyard.

Logan Williamson covers the city of Buffalo, town of Kaycee, the Chamber of Commerce and religion for the Buffalo Bulletin.


Jessi Dodge joined the Bulletin as a photojournalist and a Report for America corp member in 2020. If you have ideas or comments, reach out at

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