Woodworking and carpentry have vanished from the curricula of many high schools in favor of more high tech alternatives, but despite the recent resignation of teacher Lucas King, Marion-Florence Superintendent Lee Leiker said there is “no question” about continuing the program in USD 408.
“I feel very committed to what woods and construction technology has provided our students,” he said. “It’s critically important that we provide educational programs that allow students to gain future employment skills they enjoy doing. It serves our students with things they’re interested in.”
King is glad to know the program will continue.
“Marion’s had a really strong wood shop program ever since I was a kid,” he said. “There’s a large demand for people in the trades.”
Hands-on wood projects from turning spindles on a lathe to building houses reinforce what students learn in math and science classes, King said.
“In the carpentry class they apply that learning,” he said. “That’s an area where a light bulb comes on and it really starts making sense. We get a lot of kids going into engineering at K-State, and this is an applied part of that.”
Few students enter the program with much experience, and they develop pride in their work as they learn new skills, King said.
“It’s amazing when they go from the introduction to woods class in eighth grade and don’t know hardly anything about wood or tools to when they’re seniors and they’re producing furniture,” he said.
Safety instruction is part of the curriculum as well, and a recent incident was a startling reminder that novice woodcrafters need frequent reminders and close supervision.
A student needed three stitches for a cut on his forehead after a wooden bowl he was sanding on a lathe flew apart, sending a hunk of wood hurtling toward his safety visor. The impact cracked the visor, which caused the cut, but the student escaped additional injury, King said.
Shortly thereafter, the student turned the incident into an additional learning project, researching and creating safety guides to be placed on or near pieces of equipment.
“Kids, they’re human, they make mistakes just like grown ups,” King said. “It’s about that fine line of always being safe and looking ahead to see what’s going to happen.”
Planning, whether for safety or projects, is one of many skills, including problem-solving and teamwork, that students can take from carpentry and apply to any career they choose, King said.
The community also has been King’s classroom. Carpentry students have built sheds and houses, constructed a day care playground, and have done numerous remodeling projects, including one at Homestead Apartments. One class built the roof for the new bathrooms in Central Park.
“That’s been one of my top priorities, to teach kids about service and using your carpentry and wood skills to help people out,” King said. “They’re going to come back in 20 years for their reunion and say, ‘Hey, I helped build that.’”
Leiker said students benefit from being engaged with the community, and he expects that to continue.
“I think the students feel very good about what they’re accomplishing in the community,” he said. “That’s a great thing when they feel like they’re contributing as part of their learning.”
Leiker said he expects to have strong applicants to replace King, among them former instructors from schools that discontinued their programs.
“We’re working to meet standards and benchmarks in that area as part of a career pathway,” Leiker said. “Lucas has done a tremendous job of making our program successful. Depending on applicants it may shift a bit, because we want to play to the strengths of our applicants.”