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September 2007

Making the Grade

Josh Stewart has a plan. And being an award-winning mason at a young age is only part of that plan. Stewart has twice won his regional competition and twice won the New York State SkillsUSA masonry competition. This year, he competed in his second national masonry contest, held in conjunction with the Skills USA Leadership Conference.

"I'm learning the hands-on part, but I want to learn the design and structure part, too," Stewart said.

Stewart graduated in June from Vestal High School in Vestal, N.Y., and the Broome-Tioga BOCES (Board of Cooperative Education Services) School in Binghamton, N.Y. Upon graduation, he enrolled in summer school at Broome Community College to study engineering sciences. After two years, he said, he has definite plans to transfer to a four-year school and complete a degree in civil engineering.

You can trust a young man like Stewart to follow-through on such a plan. In addition to his studies, he gets up at 4:30 a.m. to clean a laundromat, and works part-time in masonry, taking on small projects by himself and working on larger projects with his uncles and his instructor, Lenny Verrastro.

"Josh was an excellent beginning mason," Verrastro said. An instructor for 25 years, Verrastro has hundreds of students to use as a yardstick. "Teaching Josh the trade was pure pleasure," he said.

"Everyday, he brought back to class what he learned the day before. He's a natural, you know. Good hand-eye coordination, but he doesn't just rely on it, he works on it. He's got a good family, and that always helps.

"Last summer, Josh worked with me during our concrete program," Verrastro continued. "That's when I get to do a lot of flat work with my students. We do some concrete block work, but a lot of sidewalks, too. We excavate, form, gravel, re-bar, and then pour and finish. The boys have to be there at six in the morning, so they show me fast who can be counted on. I can always count on Josh."

The praise is mutual. "Lenny has taught me everything I know [about masonry]," Stewart said. "He's the one who has given me the opportunity to pursue the trade.

"Make sure Lenny isn't forgotten in my story," he added.



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