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Ivan Casique Sanchez has learned a couple of things about himself this past year, as he and his high school classmates built a home for a low-income family on St. Paul's West Side.

One: He wants a career in the building trades. Two: He really likes "mudding" and installing drywall.

"It's kind of like making a sculpture," the 17-year-old said. "About, like, making perfection."

The work Sanchez and his classmates at the Guadalupe Area Project (GAP) School have done this year not only gave them skills to pursue construction jobs, but also helped them persuade state lawmakers to pump more money into programs designed to train students while they build affordable housing.

"It's a win-win-win," said state Rep. Matt Norris, DFL-Blaine, the lead sponsor of a bill providing $2 million a year — doubling available funding — to expand such programs across Minnesota. "We're helping young people build skills in the trades. We're helping address the numbers of tradespeople we need. And we're also making affordable housing available."

In addition, the Legislature made school districts, charter schools and intermediate districts eligible to apply for $100,000 grants through the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, money that will create even more opportunities for students to learn construction skills as they build homes for low-income families and families experiencing homelessness.

GAP School's success made it an easy sell with lawmakers, Norris said.

Over the past decade, students have renovated four houses and built two new homes, said Jody Nelson, executive director of Change Inc., which runs the West Side alternative school serving students ages 16 to 24. For 20 years, the school's construction career pathway has been affiliated with the national YouthBuild USA.

"Lots of our students are immigrants and refugees," Nelson said. "It's a great way into high-wage, high-demand jobs."

Last week, officials celebrated the completion of the first of what will be four homes on adjacent lots. One of the school's graduates is a real estate agent on the project, which is scheduled to go on the market Thursday, Nelson said.

Nelson credited Joe Nathan and Khalique Rogers, co-directors of the Center for School Change, for highlighting the program's successes and rallying support at the Legislature.

Rogers, who experienced homelessness when he was younger, said he's not surprised the programs garnered bipartisan backing in what is often a fractured political climate. Now, even more students who have perhaps struggled in other school settings will develop the ability to build their futures.

"Even if they don't stick with the trades, they at least have a foundation and some footing," Rogers said. "To me, it made perfect sense. It addresses workforce development at the same time that graduation rates are going down."

Tyson Schultz, 17, was among the students who worked on the four-bedroom house. He spent an hour or two at the building site most days this school year, he said, working on drywall, painting and tiling. It sparked an interest in the trades, Schultz said.

"I didn't think I would like the drywall and painting as much as I did," he said. "I found it was pretty interesting."