Beyond the 3 R's
Around 20 years ago, the things that could be taught in industrial classes were limited. For the author of this article, the choices revolved around building a bench in a wood shop, trying to use a small laser engraver and taking a flight simulator that resembled something out of an Atari video game.
As time has passed, so has the way that industrial education can be taught. At Kasson- Mantorville High School, there is still a wood shop that evokes memories of my uneven, rick- ety stool, but there’s a whole lot more going on in the industrial department thanks to some state of the art equipment and some new pro-grams.
“It’s exciting,” K-M industrial teacher Chris Otterness said. “It’s new. It’s exciting. It’s different all the time. We’re not teaching the same old things every year.”
“We do our best to give the kids more projects and change our curriculum,” Fellow teacher Dave Kennedy explained. “We have that work with our old school philosophy of making this a better place for the kids to be and encourage them to take on all of these projects and the activities.”
The industrial wing at K-M has undergone a change that was completed with the renovation of the high school a couple years ago.
When Otterness first started at the school 18 years ago, the classrooms were all spread out across the building meaning that the are that used to be the middle school served as a divider between several different areas.
“It was a challenge,” Otterness recalled. “You would send a kid over to the opposite side of the building and hope that someone was there to help them out.”
Today, the industrial wing is one giant area filled with six different rooms all with a different perk. While you have your traditional wood shop, you also have a welding area, an engineering lab, a small engines area and a CNC lathe room with brand new equipment.
While all rooms are state of the art thanks to cabinets and welding booths built by K-M resident Rick Jorgenson, the most unique has been the CNC room.
“There’s a lot of problem solving that goes with this,” Kennedy said. “They had it before, but this engineering and stuff has really increased the problem solving. It gives them the new technology and they can see things that are really difficult and teach them how to build them. In our CNC room, that’s the latest and greatest. There’s not much more advanced than what we have in there now.”
“When we first got all the equipment, all the kids were like ‘What are we going to do with this?’” Otterness added. “I think it took the kids a while to figure out what they were capable of and then they got creative.”
A simple tour of the industrial wing at KMHS showed the students are becoming more creative than ever in their work. While there was a fantasy football plaque being created in the CNC room, there was another pair of stu- dents welding an aluminum chair in the welding room. Toward the small machines room, there was a go-kart with a 700 cc Suzuki motor that started out as a frame and in the engineering room there was another student working on a model of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum.
“It gets the kids in here and gets them think- ing about doing their own projects,” Otterness said of the improvements. “I think the projects have gotten better.”
Perhaps the most important element of the industrial classes have been the ability to get students prepared for life after high school with trade jobs increasing in demand. K-M students have gotten to seen this first hand with fellow industrial teacher Aaron Davis (who is in his 16th year at K-M) leading his students on tours to places such as McNeilus Trucking and the Rochester Area builders.
In some cases, these tours also lead to job offers and part-time jobs while the students are in high school.
“It gives them a good look at what exactly is out there,” Kennedy, who has 45 years of experience as a teacher, said of the tours. “We teach them the basics in here and then they follow through and see where those traits lead for occupations and vocations.”
The industrial wing and all of its improve- ments have been a great addition to the pro- gram and it also comes at a time when most schools are scrapping their industrial arts pro- grams all together. The addition of engineering has helped make the program stronger at K-M and is engaging its students.
However, the ability to encourage those students to use their creativity and develop a passion for a new career path is something that makes it all come together.
“We could teach all these classes without all this equipment, but the kids wouldn’t really get it,” Otterness said. “I don’t think they would understand it and I definitely don’t think they would be excited about it. It’s getting them excited with all this new stuff can do and that’s what you want. It makes them pick that profes- sion having that stuff a letting them
say what they can do.”