WITH VIDEO: The changing world of shop class


The high school shop class looks a little different now than in years past. In some schools it’s tied to agriculture classes while in others it may be more aligned with the arts. Regardless, these classes let students gain a variety of career skills.

One recent afternoon in Jeff Blakley’s structural engineering class at Liberty-Benton High School, students were learning to build residential electrical panels.

Skyler Zahler, a 16-year-old sophomore, said students had classroom instruction before creating their own panels.


ANTHONY GALLAGHER builds a robot in his engineering technology class at Findlay’s Millstream Career Center. Today’s offerings in shop class go far beyond making birdhouses or gifts for mom. Students receive training in a wide range of subjects, including woodworking, electrical systems, plumbing, auto and farm equipment mechanics and computer-aided design. Millstream sees 60 percent of its students go on to post-secondary education. (Photo by RANDY ROBERTS / The Courier)

“I really enjoy the fact that I can get my hands dirty,” he said, adding that he is thinking about becoming a mechanic.

Students in structural engineering learn electrical, plumbing and woodworking tasks. Blakley said students arrive with different ability levels. With the electrical units, it’s common that students need to rewire it to get it right.

“That’s how you get better, is by experience,” he said.
Blakley said some students come to the class because they are interested in pursuing a related career. There are “a lot of jobs out there,” even right out of high school, in some of the trades in high demand, he said.

Blakley also teaches agricultural power, veterinary science, animal science and natural resources and is the Future Farmers of America adviser.

Brenda Frankart, principal at Liberty-Benton, said the school used to have a separate industrial arts shop and agricultural shop, but now has one shop where students can take a variety of classes.

Today’s agricultural program offerings in Ohio have “a lot more choices” for students including animal science and technology. Some students may take agriculture classes because they want to become a veterinary technician while others might want to work on cars or tractors, Frankart said.

Another thing that used to be part of the school’s shop program was the computer-aided design engineering classes. Some of those students go on to study engineering in college and then become engineers, Frankart said.

Lance Stevens, who teaches the CAD classes but is primarily a fine arts teacher, said it used to be that students would design a project, then go to the wood shop to create it. Today, he and Blakley each help students with a part of that task. Stevens said he can “definitely” see students improve their skills during the course.

While several area high schools have their own industrial arts or shop classes, many students instead attend classes at Findlay’s Millstream Career Center, which contracts with 14 schools. This includes all Hancock County high schools, Carey High School and Pandora-Gilboa, Ottawa-Glandorf, Leipsic and Miller City.

Millstream’s “trades wing” includes two auto programs, engineering, welding, construction skills and building grounds and maintenance. There is also an industrial arts lab exclusively for Findlay High School freshmen and sophomores. Otherwise Millstream students are juniors and seniors. Juniors usually attend the school in the morning and then are bused back to their home school, while seniors attend Millstream in the afternoon.

In the heavy-duty automotive class, students work on student and customer cars using equipment similar to what would be found in a car dealership. Millstream Director Chris Renn said this type of program is not seen in many high schools. The auto maintenance lab offers lighter engine and brake work and auto detailing.

There are 91 career centers in the state and Millstream, founded in 1985, is the youngest, Renn said. As state laws related to career programs changed, most smaller high schools found they couldn’t afford to offer the state-required programs, and Millstream was formed out of this need.

Millstream takes on individuals and organizations as customers. The City of Findlay has used student welders to work on city bridges as well as students who perform landscaping and grounds maintenance.

Renn said many engineering students go on to pursue an engineering degree at a four-year college or university. About one-third of the engineering students at Millstream are girls. The auto programs and welding have fewer girls attending.

Blakley, meanwhile, said “a great deal” of Liberty-Benton girls take his classes.

They include senior Allie Dukes, who said the instruction is helpful if she ever had to do wiring in her home. Dukes said that, as a girl, she is in the minority among her classmates but she likes the hands-on learning and feeling like she can do these tasks on her own rather than someone else having to do it for her.

At Millstream, Renn knows one girl who studied welding, went on to become a certified welder and pursued a career in art as a metal sculpturist.

“It’s the best part of my job” seeing these success stories, Renn said.

Welding is the most popular trades program at Millstream, because students recognize that it’s one of the best-paying jobs available right out of high school, Renn said. Every year Millstream receives 40 to 50 applications for 20 slots.

Students drawn to Millstream’s trades program tend to be “very hands-on,” Renn said.

Millstream recruits in November and December, with applications received in January and acceptance letters sent in late February. Enrollment is about 550 now and the plan is to increase it. Students are expected to attend regularly and maintain good grades.

While high school teachers of most subjects have gone to a four-year college specifically to take education coursework and pursue a teaching career, Millstream’s staff mostly went into the industry first and practiced their trade, only deciding later they wanted to teach.

Renn said there is still a stigma about industrial arts programs. Many of Millstream’s students are honors students but some parents and teachers may think of pursuing industrial arts education as somehow inferior.

“It’s the biggest challenge we face,” he said.

He said 60 percent of Millstream’s students go on to postsecondary education at either a two-year or four-year program, more than at Findlay High School.

Locally, Renn sees attitudes changing and noted that the voters of Findlay agreeing to build the new facility with a 2009 bond issue “made a statement.”

Technology allows students to do things they previously couldn’t. Millstream’s engineering lab’s three-dimensional printer lets students make plastic models they design themselves.

“Technology advancements have revolutionized all of our trades programs,” Renn said.
He said the machines and tools available in the labs are “second to none.”

Fewer middle schools offer industrial arts classes any more primarily because they don’t have the space, Renn said.

At Van Buren High School, Michael Daniels teaches design, architectural design, woods and photography and printing.

Daniels said typically at the beginning of the year there is more classroom time and discussion, with more hands-on work as the school year progresses.

Students learn to work independently with Daniels’ role as “kind of like a coach or a resource.”

Daniels said some students are drawn to his classes because of a hobby, others for a career interest and others because it allows them a fine arts credit toward graduation.

Daniels said technology is changing but in his design classes he teaches traditional drawing, as well as using computers, believing that students need to know the fundamentals. Daniels also teaches photography using a pinhole camera, 35 mm camera and digital camera.

Daniels wants his woodworking students to build a project such as a dresser, night stand or coffee table, something more complex than a sawhorse or birdhouse. Students in the beginning classes work with plans Daniels provides while more advanced students can design their own projects.

Daniels has seen a lot of success stories and said several alumni are now working as architects or engineers.

For others, these classes may help them with everyday life.

Such learning usually doesn’t come out of a textbook. At Liberty-Benton, Blakley uses a textbook to teach some of the science behind welding and electricity, but most learning is hands-on.

Safety is key and students in these programs must pass safety tests before being allowed into the lab.

Arthurs: 419-427-8494
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