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Students build confidence and life-skills in shop class

Jan. 4, 2015

On a cold December morning, Monticello High School students in Donald Waddell’s wood and manufacturing class stand outside the school, tools in hand, within a wood frame. As the winter wind whips around, a structure slowly starts to take shape. Before long, it will become an eight-by-16 foot shed used to store wood at Monticello High School. students work on building a wood shed

These hands-on projects are typical of Mr. Waddell’s shop classes, where students learn valuable skills that help prepare them for life after graduation. Aside from job skills, these classes also enhance students’ math skills, since measurement and meticulousness are crucial to each successful project. It’s a practical, real-life application of math and geometry.

Monticello Central School District has a goal of producing “life-ready” students, and as far as Mr. Waddell is concerned, shop class does just that–and does it well.

“Last I checked, we all live in houses,” he said. “Having these types of practical, real-world skills guarantees a job.”

But the benefits extend beyond job-readiness. Learning how to contribute to the community and work together to build tangible, functional products enhances students’ confidence and fosters a sense of greater connection with the school and the larger community, according to Mr. Waddell.

The fruits of the students’ efforts are displayed across the district. The class manufactured the lighted greenhouses in the school’s science department. When the high school begins its upcoming student athlete awards series, the class will produce and mount the plaques. Last year, the students built and subsequently sold bird houses, raising over $350 for the Red Cross. Recently, the group refinished, painted and donated a table for a local family in need.
students pose with a table they refinished for a family in need
“Learning how to contribute to others keeps these students coming to school happy and smiling,” said Mr. Waddell. “When you’re able to actually see and touch work that you’ve created yourself–that makes it real and builds confidence.”

Mr. Waddell often sees students develop a true sense of pride in their work. Students will start with pine and eventually ask to work with nicer materials, such as mahogany or pine, striving to become real masters of their craft.

“There’s always something more to learn,” Mr. Waddell said. “Whenever I hear about a school considering dropping its shop program, it’s upsetting. This is really where these students shine.”

“I really like using wood and building stuff,” said student Kevin Ricker. “My father builds all kinds of decorations for Christmas, Halloween and Hanukkah, and the skills come in handy. One day, I hope I’ll be able to make decorations with him.”