Exemplary OCT

Marco Magazzeni, OCT

Bringing a passion for the trades to his love of teaching

by Leanne Miller, OCT

“A house backing onto our school had been sitting vacant for years,” remembers Marco Magazzeni, OCT. “I saw a man cutting the grass there one day, and I approached him and asked if he had any plans to sell. The next thing I knew, we were walking through the house, and I was imagining an extreme makeover project with my construction students.”

And the rest, as the saying goes, is history. Magazzeni and students at Lakeshore Catholic HS in the Niagara Catholic DSB spent the spring of 2008 planning and performing their extreme makeover; they gutted and then renovated the abandoned house, transforming it into a modern home that sold within weeks of being listed.

Through creativity, ingenuity, enthusiasm and a lot of sweat, Magazzeni and his 28 senior construction technology students partnered with the vendor and local suppliers, contractors and real estate professionals to renovate the house, sell it for an agreed-upon price and hand over $6,200 in profit to the McMaster Children’s Hospital.

And for his vision, energy and effort, Magazzeni was honoured with a 2009–10 Premier’s Award in the Teacher of the Year category.

“This award is all about the students,” says a humble Magazzeni. “It’s not about me.”

Magazzeni has followed a different career path than most teachers. He had been running an electrical contracting business in the Niagara region for 14 years when Sergio Borghesi, OCT, the former technological education consultant for the Niagara Catholic DSB and now the board’s chief technology officer, approached him. Borghesi asked him to teach a semester in 2004 at Lakeshore Catholic HS in Port Colborne.

“Sergio knew I was interested in teaching,” Magazzeni recalls, “and he gave me a chance to see if I would enjoy it.”

Magazzeni, a certified electrician and successful businessman, had participated in board career days, been a guest speaker in technology classes and often hosted co-op students from Niagara Catholic secondary schools.

“I loved it from the start,” he says. “I invited a few of my contractor friends to come to my classes. We brought in a backhoe, a dump truck, a boom truck and a welder,” he says, laughing. “We exposed the kids to various construction trades, and they went nuts. That’s when I knew I could really have fun with a teaching career.”

Based on his extensive work experience, Magazzeni was granted his Basic and Advanced Technological Studies, Construction Technology qualifications in 2005. He completed his BEd at OISE in 2006 and has since completed four other AQs, including his Honour Specialist, Technological Studies last year.
With the renovation project, the first thing Magazzeni did was take his construction technology students through the house and discuss the possibility of renovating it.

We had three months to gut the place and rebuild it … the pressure was great, but the kids thrived on it.

“They had to buy into the project,” he says. “It was going to be a lot of work.”

“It was a tired old house in a good location,” the experienced contractor recalls. “It needed everything: a new roof and exterior, windows, floors, electricals, plumbing, kitchen, bathrooms, as well as a complete paint job and other finishes like trim and baseboards.”

The students created a blueprint of their renovation vision. Then Magazzeni invited a real estate agent to come and give them feedback. His realistic message focused on what potential buyers look for and how the students could get the best return on their efforts.

The students modified their plans and suddenly they had a real project – with a tight schedule. They started work on the house in April, and it had to be ready to list in July.

The plan wasn’t just to renovate an old house. It was also to make a profit on the work and donate that to charity. The students quickly chose McMaster Children’s Hospital, as many of their school’s students had been treated there.

“It hit home with them,” says Magazzeni, “Kids helping kids; it doesn’t get any better than that.”

The next hurdle was getting school approval. The students nervously presented the plan to their principal, Dan Di Lorenzo, OCT.

“I was hesitant at first,” Di Lorenzo admits, “but I saw the students’ and Marco’s enthusiasm, and I knew we had to give it a try.”

Di Lorenzo says Magazzeni had a strong sense of how these students would learn best.

“Combining technological studies with hands-on experiential learning is one of the best ways to engage and motivate students,” says the principal. “This project was about application, not just theory. Instead of wiring a wall in the shop, Marco had the students wiring an actual house. It was real and it had to be perfect; just doing a good job wasn’t enough.”

“We had three months to gut the place and rebuild it,” says Magazzeni. “In hindsight, the pressure was great, but the kids thrived on it.”

Construction soon began, and before he knew it Magazzeni had kids working on the site by 7 a.m. and often after school until 7 p.m..

Many of the students involved in the project were enrolled in Lakeshore Catholic’s construction-focused Specialist High Skills Majors program (SHSM). It’s one of the many components of the Ministry of Education’s Student Success initiative, designed to meet the individual learning needs of students by providing them with opportunities to customize their high school experience.

The students first organized themselves into groups that connected with their own career interests. One boy wanted to pursue a civil engineering career, so he became the scheduling lead. Two of the three girls in the class formed part of the design and decorating team.

“Every student chose a focus that interested them, which also contributed to their non-stop motivation and efforts,” says Magazzeni.

Calling on many of his industry connections, Magazzeni signed on 16 local trade professionals who represented all areas of the construction industry. Their professions included electrician, plumber, roofer, siding and window installer, tile setter, hardwood flooring installer, heating and air conditioning technician, drywaller and painter.

All agreed not to invoice until the property sold. Eventually, many of them became so enthusiastic about the project they donated time and materials to make it successful. A lumber store in Port Colborne allowed the kids to price and source the necessary supplies themselves and also extended payment until the property sold.

The property owner also became a partner. He and the real estate agent, who reduced his commission to just cover his costs, agreed on a realistic sale price before the work began. Now the kids had a fundraising goal. Any profit they made would go to McMaster Children’s Hospital.

Mark was a student in Magazzeni’s class. The 16-year-old says he received treatment at the hospital for most of his childhood.

“It made me want to work harder, knowing that our profits might help paint some walls in the hospital or benefit other kids who need help.”

Fittingly, the eventual purchaser was a former Lakeshore Catholic student who fell in love with both the house and the story. And he and his wife had a son who had also been treated at McMaster Children’s Hospital.

Although the students did much of the work themselves, it was all supervised by certified tradesmen. Magazzeni and his school colleague, Tino Nuccitelli, OCT, are both certified electricians. They got the work permit in their name and made sure everything was built and installed to code.

Both the house and garage needed new roofs, and the roofing students took fall-arrest training before they set foot on a ladder. Part of the SHSM program, it gives students all the health, safety, hazardous materials, first aid and CPR training they need to be professionals in their selected fields.

“Everything fell into place,” remembers Magazzeni. “There were no glitches and no accidents, thank God. We met the schedule. Everyone got along well. It was a fantastic learning experience from start to finish.”

Even the building inspectors got involved. They talked to the students about requirements and protocols, explained what they look for when they do their inspections and pointed out common problems that builders encounter. Naturally, all work passed inspection with flying colours.

Support wasn’t only from tradespeople working on the project. When it came time to think about decorating, technology teacher Ivana Galante, OCT, and her Grade 10 and 11 all-girls construction class pitched in. Two days before the closing date, guidance counsellor Pina Griepsma, OCT, showed up with her parents to clean the house. Chef training teacher Michael Gretzinger, OCT, and his students from Denis Morris HS in St. Catharines put on a barbecue for all the workers on one of the days the students worked all day on the project. Parents of students at the school brought food on the seven or eight all-day work days.

There was a real sense of ownership for the project throughout the school, remembers Magazzeni, and it wasn’t limited to the technology department. Stephen Sim, OCT, had many of the same students in his religion class.

“Doing this kind of fantastic volunteer work totally fit into my curriculum,” he recalls. “In fact it brought to life the important concept of volunteerism. These students could sit in my class and read about it, or they could go work on their house project and live it. Naturally, I chose the latter.”

Magazzeni says there was a buzz in the neighbourhood as well. This run-down house was being fixed; the neighbours were thrilled. Two students rotated clean-up duty each day. Their final job was to walk a 100-foot radius beyond the property and pick up garbage. Magazzeni believes many of the students felt a sense of community, probably for the first time in their lives, realizing first-hand the importance of having and being good neighbours.

“I watched these students become totally different people in the three months we worked on the project,” says Magazzeni. “They were completely engaged every day on the site and in my classes.”

They were more focused in their other classes too, he remembers, because they knew they would be taken off the project if their grades slipped.

“They owned this project. It became part of them; their pride was fantastic.”

Principal Di Lorenzo says this was probably one of the best learning experiences many of these teenagers will ever have.

“They met the curriculum expectations,” he says. “They experienced practical, hands-on application of the theories they learned and they developed strong community partnerships with the neighbours, the suppliers and with McMaster Children’s Hospital. It was win-win-win.”

Magazzeni believes it was a life-altering experience for many of the students, and he admits it was for him as well.


Marco Magazzeni believes in practical hands-on application of theories and forging strong community connections to strengthen learning.

“I was fed by these kids. I came to see that if you give teenagers time, input and responsibility, they can do anything. I’m so proud of what they accomplished. It’s awesome. This is why I came to teaching.”

Magazzeni estimates that of the 28 students in his class, half are registered in apprenticeships today. Rob, for example, could easily have attended university, with his good grades. Today he is a registered brick and stone mason apprentice, loving every minute of his work and learning.

Jesse is in Grade 12 now and has just finished his final semester of the construction SHSM at the school. He is hoping to start an apprenticeship as either a framer or heavy-equipment operator later this spring. He talks about working on the project.

“It was fantastic being a 15-year-old kid working side by side with older guys who do this for a living. They made us feel part of the team. We had responsibilities, so we had to be older and more mature. We couldn’t slack off and let them down; we had to step up and get our jobs done. We were part of a real team with real deadlines and problems we had to overcome. Real-life learning like that is best.”

Jesse says he learned new tricks working on the site.

“In math class we learned about adding measurements,” he remembers. “But the guys showed us an easier way to do it.”

So on the job site, math became practical and useful?

“Yes,” agrees Jesse, “It’s easier when you’re using it in the real world instead of working from the textbook. And it’s so important to get it right.”

Mark is doing a plumbing co-op placement this semester and hopes to start a plumbing apprenticeship next year. Thanks to the project he learned he has a knack for the in-demand trade.

“It was a really cool feeling,” he remembers. “I was part of the reason there was water running in that house. That was amazing.”

He talks about learning the “whats” by reading books and doing projects in the construction classroom.

“But we learned the hows and whys by working on a real house,” he says. “That’s the most important learning kids can get from school.”

The other thing Mark learned is the value of hard work and team effort.

“If I’m working on a job site now, and I’m doing some plumbing, I’ll always help sweep up at the end of the day. I’ll always do extra work that’s not my own or try to help someone else out.”

There are two benefits, he explains. First, the boss will, hopefully, notice him doing extra and take him to his next job.

Second, “If the boss has more time because I’m helping out,” Mark explains, “then he can go find us further work. If he’s happy, he’ll make sure he makes us happy. That’s the way it works. You can’t learn that in school or in textbooks; you can only learn that on a real job site.”

Magazzeni now works out of the Niagara Catholic DSB board office as its consultant, K–12 Technology/Specialist High Skills Major. He says he misses the daily interaction with teenagers. Since this project, he has helped establish 32 community partnerships and led the development of the Specialist High Skills Major in construction for his board. He has been instrumental in creating new courses in electricity, digital photography and sports management.


The Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM) is one of the many elements of the Ministry of Education’s Student Success initiative, which is designed to meet the individual learning needs of every student by giving them opportunities to customize their high-school experience and build on their strengths and interests through a variety of new and enhanced learning options. The initiative’s goal is to let students focus on career paths that match their skills and interests.

An SHSM is a ministry-approved specialized program that allows students to focus their learning on a specific economic sector while meeting the requirements to graduate from secondary school. It also assists in their transition after graduation to apprenticeship training, college, university or the workplace.

SHSM programs typically bundle eight to ten courses in a student’s selected field. Current programs offered throughout the province include agriculture, arts and culture, aviation/aerospace, business, construction, energy, the environment, forestry, health and wellness, horticulture and landscaping, hospitality and tourism, information and communications, technology, justice, community safety and emergency services, manufacturing, mining, non-profit, sports and transportation.

Pursuing an SHSM enables students to:

Students pursuing a construction major will bundle ten Grade 11 and Grade 12 credits, earning or acquiring:

For construction majors, possible career paths include:

For more information on Specialist High Skills Major programs, visit the Ministry of Education web site.

The Premier’s Awards

The Premier’s Awards are open to anyone who is employed by a publicly funded school or board/authority in Ontario. You can nominate teachers, support staff, principals and vice-principals, supervisory officers, directors of education and many others.

There are six different award categories, recognizing a range of people and skills:

For more information, visit www.edu.gov.on.ca/teachingawards/FAQs.html.