If some students at Centennial High School say they nailed their final exams, they are speaking a little bit more literally than you might expect.

Mike Palumbo, an instructor in the school’s well-regarded construction tech program, also owns his own construction company. And through a special agreement with Pueblo City Schools (D60), he put his students to work actually building a custom home.

The students spent several weeks working on the home, starting with the foundation and working their way up. Last week, they had their final exam in the class, which was quite different from the exams held for more traditional courses of study.

“The first part of the exam is to come to the work site on time,” Palumbo said. “And dressed appropriately for work in the winter: boots, jeans, hard hats, glasses and the jackets that we’ve bought them. And another part of the final is if we send them to the truck to get a tool, they have to know what it is and where it’s at. And if I tell them to ‘chalk the line,’ they have to know what I’m talking about.”

This isn’t just a way for Palumbo to get free labor for his business. In fact, he committed to donating any profit from the sale of the home back to the construction tech program.

He and D60 officials are to be commended for coming up with such a creative learning opportunity. As D60 Superintendent Charlotte Macaluso put it, the class offered “hands-on learning; true relevance.”

Palumbo’s students seemed to agree. Cole Hernandez, a senior at Centennial, said: “Through this program, you get a lot of skills that you don’t normally learn in the classroom; a lot of life application skills you can use throughout your entire life.”

Added senior Buddy Niccoli: “I talk to a lot of my friends at other schools and no other school has a program like this. Everyone else builds little birdhouses, stools and all that. But we get to come out to the job site and build a custom house.”

It isn’t possible to replicate the program at every local high school since not every instructor happens to own a construction company. However, this type of practical learning should continue to be an area of emphasis for the school district.

For decades, educators pushed to ensure that all students were prepared to attend college after graduation. But now vocational education seems to be coming back into vogue.

That’s a welcome change because not every student wants to attend college. And the reality is that there are many good jobs out there that don’t require a college education.

Centennial’s construction tech program certainly hammers that point home.