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  • Diana Matthews

Mason has built solid educational program from the ground up

Columbus County Schools named Fred Mason of Columbus College and Career Academy as teacher of the year. Mason teaches general construction skills as well as masonry classes from basic through advanced levels.

His students have earned attention at regional and state level contests, even competing against adults who are already earning a living in the masonry business. His strongest, most skillful female students can lay 370 bricks per hour. One young man has laid 440 bricks per hour. Mason finds it rewarding to see his students grow in their professional skills.

Foundation of a new career

In the summer of 2012, he answered the invitation to become a teacher at the newly established magnet school through the state’s lateralentry process. While working every day in the classr o o m , h e also ear ned t e a c h i n g credits from Southeastern Community College, UNCPembroke and Isothermal Community College. “It was a lot of pressure,” said Mason.

He knew the construction business intimately, but “Everything I had to learn about the school system and comput - ers was so new to me. I kept saying, ‘This is tough,’” said Mason. “I was 47 ye a r s o l d when I went to college.” Not only w a s i t a c h a l l e n g e to become b o t h a teacher and a student for the first time in decades, but Mason also had to design his own curriculum.

“There was no previous program,” he said. “I built it. The administrators allowed me to build it the way I wanted. I applaud them for having the confidence in me to let me do that. “They gave me a nice, clean room. But there wasn’t a masonry tool in sight. I brought my own tools in at first. After a while, the equipment came and the program took shape.”

He wondered whether he would be able to translate his years of practical experience into lessons he could present to high school students. His first day standing in front of a classroom showed him that he could.

W i t h n o t e x t b o o k t o rely on, “The students started firing questions at me, and I could answer them. The kids themselves gave me the motivation to continue.”

A native of B o a r d m a n , Mason attended West Columbus High School, where shop teacher Charles Mitchell recognized his potential and pushed him to develop that potential. Mason tries to be as good a mentor to his own students as Mitchell was to him. “After high school, I got a couple of jobs. I was fired from one job as a mason and re-hired right away as a wheelbarrow-pusher.”

After gaining more work experience, Mason established his own business, Fred Mason’s Masonry, in 1989.

Building on success

Although teaching is his full-time job now, he has kept his outside business open on a small scale, accepting “a few small masonry jobs during the summers,” and using his real-world contacts as extra learning opportunities for his students.

Mason’s students have carried out community service projects such as building a set of steps for a child care center and re-laying a damaged brick walkway in downtown Fair Bluff. Now that he is about to complete his fifth year at CCCA, Mason has already seen his first graduates go out into the world. “I’ve got one graduate working part time with a guy in Lumberton. Another one wants to have his own business.

He works part time with me.” He points out that hard workers can earn a good living in masonry. “Look at every building you go in,” he tells his students. “Nearly every one involves some masonry.

“If they decide they’d rather be a nurse or a truck driver, that’s great, too. They’ll have masonry skills to do small jobs for themselves or other people. It’ll enhance their net worth.”

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