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Students teaching students spreads CTE thrill
Sixth grader Andrew Bennett, with the guidance of teacher Rafael Dongon, bucks up his courage to use a saw Wednesday at Westview High School as part of the Beaverton School District’s Explore Manufacturing summer program. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
Instructor Rafael Dongon asked sixth grader Andrew Bennett to be brave as he faced using a chop saw for the first time. Bennett was hesitant, but after a few minutes of encouragement, he was sawing away.
“I was scared at first, but I discovered that if you do it right, you’ll be safe,” Bennett said.
The Beaverton School District is trying out a new Explore Manufacturing program this summer, introducing middle school students to a whole range of tools with the help of high school mentors.
The Beaverton program aims to give middle schoolers from underrepresented groups a taste of career and technical education. About 40 students from Five Oaks Middle School will join with about 20 Westview High School manufacturing students in two two-week sessions this month. Dongon is a Five Oaks teacher.
Korin Galgano, the Five Oaks site coordinator and a language support specialist, said the group mixes students who showed interest with ones she thought might benefit most. In addition to practical skills, she said, the program offers students a chance to connect with each other and become more engaged with school.
With the help of federal and state emergency money, school districts around Oregon have geared up a variety of summer programs this year to help students regain missed learning and reconnect with their school communities. Westview manufacturing teacher Furl Kamaka`ala hopes this summer’s program will be a model and can expand to more Beaverton high schools and middle schools.
The high school students, who are recovering credits or just getting some extra time with a program they enjoy, start their day at 8 a.m. to work on projects and prepare for the middle schoolers. The middle schoolers arrive at 10:15 and stay until about 11:30.
On a recent day, Kamaka`ala gave a lesson on reclaimed wood before the middle schoolers fanned out to different projects with the help of the older students. Some worked on computers to create designs, others painted or cut metal.
A few even got a lesson in welding. The students — in heavy gloves, protective coats and welding helmets — took turns with the torch. Sophomore Riley Graham watched closely and patiently showed them how their technique affected the weld’s quality.
Junior Ryan Truong said he is building leadership skills as he helps the younger students.
Through it all wandered two black Labradors, Kai and Quincy. They are a constant petting distraction, but Kamaka`ala said they also make students feel more comfortable and are one of the main reasons some students come to his class.
Pragya Birla, a sophomore, aims to be a research scientist but wants some practical tool knowledge. She started in the manufacturing program as a freshman with the goal of building herself a bookshelf. It was her first exposure to power tools.
“It was scary sometimes, exciting sometimes,” she said. The safety rules made her more confident, and now she is a mentor helping other students.
Birla showed Isabella Muñoz, a junior, how to use the power saws. Muñoz said it helped her confidence to be learning from another young woman.
“It makes me realize we should have more girls in industry,” she said. Muñoz teaches the middle school students about sewing in between her own practice with the shop’s tools.
Sixth grader T’Naj Deacon’s favorite part so far has been tearing apart a wood pallet. She also likes the textures she can create with the grinder, and she wants to learn as much about the tools as she can.
“It’s good to learn in case I need to do something basic,” Deacon said.
School districts around Oregon have turned to these kinds of hands-on learning experiences because they correlate with reduced dropout rates. They also open up a world of family-supporting career paths.
John Niebergall, executive director of Digital Design and Fabrication Oregon, helped Kamaka`ala start his manufacturing space about a decade ago. Niebergall is a former Sherwood CTE teacher who now consults to help school districts set up programs.
He praised the Beaverton School District for providing the money, supplies and equipment for a manufacturing space. He said teachers such as Kamaka`ala, though, are the secret ingredients to making career and technical education work. He said teachers need more training on how to lead CTE classes.
“We need to start thinking about who we will train to replace Furl because it’s hard to find Furls,” he said.
Kamaka`ala is a constant presence around the room. He believes in letting the students lead, but he is there to offer a hand or a word of advice. He talks to the students about good practices in workshops and shows them how products made in the shop can lead to careers or businesses.
And he keeps it fun because these are still middle schoolers. As the period ended, his high school students brought out frozen treats they made themselves for the middle schoolers to enjoy on the bus ride after class.
“That’s the biggest hit,” Kamaka`ala said. “But I’ll bet you every one of these kids will sign up for CTE in ninth grade.”
- Jake Arnold, OSBA