Return of wood shop at Coronado

       Never mind that it goes “against the grain” of modern educational trends. Coronado High School has a wood shop class again this year.

Students work on projects in the Coronado wood shop class.
Westside Pioneer photo

       It's proven popular, according to instructor Gary Hilty. The one class, an elective called Exploratory Woods, has about 30 students enrolled, and he hopes to add a second class for advanced students next year.
       “It's been a pretty big hit,” he said. “We're getting kids who otherwise wouldn't get involved in that kind of thing.”
       Hilty believes students are ready for such “hands-on” work near the end of the school day after spending most of their time in traditional classroom settings. This impression was supported by two students in the class, Jonathan Drye and Alex Natale, both freshmen, who said they like the chance to build things. “I'm a big Red Sox fan,” Natale said, displaying a baseball bat clock he was shaping from a piece of two-by-four.
       The clock is the first project this semester for all the students. They can cut anything they want out of a two-by-four as long as they drill space in it somewhere to hold a small, circular clock that's provided.
       The other two projects this semester will be a box with a lid and a ballpoint-pen set made from a lathe. Any students who get those done before semester's end, “can make whatever they want,” Hilty said.

Instructor Gary Hilty demonstrates soldering techniques.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Open to all grade levels, the elective “emphasize[s] activities in design, sketching and woodworking,” the course description states. “Students will acquire an understanding of the use of tools, materials, machines and project development. Craftsmanship, including accuracy, neatness, cooperative work habits and safety will be stressed.”
       Safety is no small matter. Before students in the class can even pick up a tool, they have to get a perfect score on a 100-question safety test, Hilty pointed out. First they learn how to use the hand tools, then the power-driven ones.
       On one class day recently, Hilty spent a few minutes at the start of the period to reiterate the importance of taking the time on the less glamorous aspects of woodworking. “I know you get tired of us telling you to file and sand, but we don't want you taking home clocks that look like they've been done in elementary school,” he said.
       Once it was typical for high schools to have such vocational classes, and Coronado was no exception. According to Steve Cervi, one of the school's original teachers (who retired in 2008), “When the school first opened [in 1970], it was designed to have all the trades. Over time, they fell by the wayside, little by little.”
       Coronado Principal Susan Humphrey said that until this year it had been about eight years since the school had vocational classes other than auto shop.
       It wasn't because of student disinterest, but rather an academic perception that high school should offer classes that lead students to “career pathways” and, as part of that perception, classes such as wood shop “didn't lead to anything,” Humphrey said.
       But even if a school such as Coronado might wish to offer a wood shop class, there is another issue - finding a qualified teacher. This is because full-time teachers would have to instruct other classes as well, and not many qualified shop teachers are like Hilty by being also qualified to teach in established areas (engineering in his case). Nor is it easy to find a qualified teacher who is willing to work part-time, Humphrey explained, comparing such a quest to seeking “a needle in a haystack.”

Some of the clocks that were created by Coronado's wood shop class.
Courtesy of Gary Hilty

       Gary Hilty had taught wood shop at Irving Middle School, where he had also started the Project Lead the Way (PLTW) engineering program before coming to Coronado, which offers PLTW at the high school level.
       “The first year here I realized we had students who wanted applied technology programs but were not interested in the engineering program,” Hilty summarizes in an e-mail. So, working with Engineering Department Chair Bryce McLean, “we submitted an outline for the wood technology program. Some of the hand tools and machines were here, although they were not all in working order. We have worked hard to build the shop back up and added tools and equipment from other schools which closed or are not currently using their shop equipment. We have also worked with and partnered with the El Paso County Contractors Association and NAWIC (National Association for Woman in Construction) for funding and supplies for our school.
       “We do realize that even by today's standard that students need some form of a college education, but they also need training and experience in career fields such as construction, plumbing, electrical, etc. This is the type of educational training students can use the rest of their lives. A lot of students do not realize there are actual jobs and job apprentices in these types of careers.”

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