Program at Estacada High School provides students with hands-on experiences in the trades

ESTACADA NEWS PHOTO: EMILY LINDSTRAND - A student in the Estacada High School metals class works on a project.When the Estacada High School metals class needed new chairs, students were able to put their recently-learned skills to use. The young welders created new metal stools for their classroom.

David Richards, who teaches the metals class, said this sort of hands-on experience is typical for the program.

"It's a unique class in any high school. Where else do you go during the day to focus on using your hands to create?" Richards said. "A lot of classes are theoretical. This is lab-based majority."

He added that the abilities gained in class will serve students well after graduation.

"It's about producing useful skills that are in short supply in the modern workplace. We'll have a core group of kids coming out of high school focused on building stuff with their hands," he said.

"It's not just career-focused, it's life purpose."

This is Richards' first year teaching in Estacada. Previously, he taught for 15 years in Vancouver, Wash., and prior to that, he worked in underground mining.

In past years, the Estacada High School metals program was offered for just several class periods. Now, it is a full time offering.

"It looks a lot different in here in the past two-and-a-half months," Richards said.

Approximately 120 students of all grade levels at the high school are enrolled in the metals program. Additionally, one fifth-grade student in the district attends classes.

Students began their studies with the OSHA 30-hour training, an industry certification that focuses on protective wear, chemical safety, ladder safety, fall protection and fire safety, among other topics.

"They come out of here quite safe," Richards said.

Next, they focused on learning how to use different welding machinery. In the future, Richards hopes to see students build skateboard racks for the high school campus.

"We're teaching entrepreneurship by showing them that their hands are worth something," he said. "In the trophy generation, all you have to do is show up to get something, but you can't give a kid self esteem. If you earn self esteem, no one can remove it from you. We're building self esteem in kids by showing them they can do something valuable in society."

He added that the experience is valuable whether students want to pursue a career in the trades or attend college.

"You have the skills for a part time job to fund whatever you want to do," he said.

Students appreciate the freedom offered by the metals program.

They noted that during the first half of the week, they learn about the techniques and spend the latter half of the week putting their new skills to use.

"We build stuff and check off the list of welds (as we do them)," said Cash Martin, a senior.

"It's fun," said Colby Albin, a sophomore.

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