School program gives Carney-Nadeau students vocational skills training
POWERS — Carney-Nadeau Public Schools students are building their vocational skills at North Central Area Schools.
North Central offers a streamlined version of its industrial arts program for Carney students interested in woodworking, welding, architecture and computer-aided design.
The program was born out of a discussion between North Central Middle and High School Principal Dave Florenski and Carney-Nadeau Superintendent Adam Cocco after Carney’s welding classes through Hannahville Indian School/Nah Tah Wahsh Public School Academy had been terminated.
“This was our solution,” Florenski said.
In its first year, the program meets daily during sixth period at North Central, home to 175 middle and high school students. The classes are led by Gerald Whitens, a Northern Michigan University graduate who has taught industrial arts and welding for 31 years, the past four at North Central.
“For right now, the kids are coming over here and doing woodworking,” Whitens said. “It was supposed to be welding, but I asked the kids, ‘What would you like to do?’ The majority of them had already tinkered around with machines and woodworking, so they were very comfortable with that. For their first year here, I wanted them to be as comfortable as possible.”
Whitens began with two projects — a sign and a picture frame — to teach 11 of Carney-Nadeau’s 96 high school students basic routing, sanding, joining and staining techniques.
“By the time (students) are done with these two projects, I pretty much can turn them loose,” Whitens said. “I don’t necessarily dictate the projects that they make.”
Students are not as engaged when Whitens assigns specific projects as they are when they are able to decide for themselves, he said.
“They come in every day and they’re working on what they want to work on,” Whitens said. “I love it, because now I’m helping them build something that they enjoy to build.”
“We get to learn something new every day,” sophomore Carley Messersmith said. “Each day is a new experience and the skills I’m learning can help me down the road with my career.”
In addition to woodworking and welding, Carney students also will learn three different versions of CAD — mechanical, architectural and 3D. Students use the software to draft blueprints, build scale models and 3D-print objects.
Exposure to the fundamentals of the industrial arts is central to Whitens’ approach as a teacher.
“There was a trend a few years back where some thought that kids just didn’t need (industrial arts) in high school because they would leave and go to the junior colleges, to vocational centers and get that education,” Whitens said. “Unless someone really is introduced to (the arts) at a younger age, they’re not going to walk out the high school doors and say, ‘Okay, today I’m going to be a welder’ or ‘I’m going into woodworking.’ That’s not going to happen.”
Offering vocational classes in middle and high school allows students to gauge their own interest in the field and provides the conviction to seek further education, Whitens said.
“I now feel confident building nearly anything out of wood,” sophomore Forrest Tickler said, noting he also looked forward to learning CAD software and welding techniques as preparation toward an engineering degree.
North Central students who progress through vocational classes can, in the second semester of their senior year, be placed into work-study programs at local businesses such as Superior Welding and Manufacturing or Wendricks Truss in Hermansville.
“When they leave this school system — with all the things we are able to offer them — they should be a pretty dynamic student in the vocational area,” Whitens said.
Carney-Nadeau students for now are not able to join work studies, though Florenski and Whitens hope the programs will be available to them one day.
“It’s a great partnership. We want to keep on improving it,” Florenski said, adding, “What else can we do for the future?”