In the old days, they called it shop class.
Today, West Valley High School teacher Tim Dorwin calls the courses basic and advanced materials and manufacturing.
He’s on a mission, preparing students to excel for future employers such as Boeing, Kaiser Aluminum or Hewlett-Packard.
“In the old days, this used to be considered a dumping grounds, but no more. Business wants smart kids,” Dorwin said. “Sixty-five percent of jobs today need highly skilled workers.”
He explains his program over the sound of machinery humming, interrupting himself to answer students’ questions and keep the class of novices safely on task.
The kids in the basic manufacturing class are working in teams producing a stylish deck chair. Dorwin and his students have modified a design originally published in Sunset Magazine.
The six teams will produce about 25 chairs this spring - all but two of which are already sold.
The project offers plenty of learning: measuring, attention to detail, running the machinery safely and efficiently.
Is the class hard?
It is, admitted sophomore Chris Gregg, “if you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Handling routers, planers, various saws and jigs is all new to most of the kids.
Where’s the power switch for the router?
“Found it,” said Alesha Hodge, a junior.
A few years ago Dorwin was invited to help write curriculum for a statewide school-to-work program. The group is called MTAG, or Manufacturing Technical Advisory Group. The document he helped write is a manual of competencies that big manufacturing businesses in Washington would like to see in their entry-level employees.
Some of the objectives are relatively simple: Maintain company-provided tools. Others are more demanding: Identify strategies that may maximize profit potential in manufacturing processes.
As he watches students working with a planer on the far side of the room - “I prefer to call it a lab, not a shop,” Dorwin said - the teacher waxes eloquent about the importance of learning skills and teamwork in a technical setting.
His involvement with the MTAG project evolved into West Valley High School being named one of five pilot schools in the state. He’s also netted $9,700 this year in grants and donations of equipment.
“That’s more than some school programs have in their budget,” he says.
Dorwin looks forward to the day when he has technical writing classes and applied math and science classes added to his program.
“Eye protection, guys. Let’s get it on,” he calls out to the students who aren’t wearing safety goggles. Safety is a high priority.
He interrupts himself seamlessly when need be.
“How far is your thumb from that blade?” he asks freshman Vasily Korndychuk at the band saw.
And Dorwin hopes that the students who show promise stay with his program. He looks for students who are willing to work and ask good questions.
If they do stay with his program, Dorwin said, “these kids can make $12 to $20 an hour two years out of high school. That’s good money.”
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