Welding teacher builds program
For several evenings each week, David Richards hosts groups of students at his home shop in Eagle Creek.
Richards previously taught metals at Estacada High School, but the program was cut last spring because of COVID-19 related budget cuts. Many students and families rallied to keep the metals program, and an online petition in support of it gathered 1,164 signatures.
"I thought, if there's this much interest in it, I've got to make something work," Richards said. "I believe in this, so I kept doing it. These kids are really thriving."
The program has 10 participants — double the number that it did when it started in September. Some are Richards' previous students from Estacada High School, but others are in their 20s and want to update their skills.
Students and families pay for the cost of running the program. Richards does not draw a salary and uses the funds for supplies and to improve the equipment.
Each session has four or fewer students to ensure social distancing. The groups meet for an hour and a half three days a week.
"The 4-to-1 student ratio is incredible. We get so much more done," Richards said.
He noted that there are several differences between this program and a traditional classroom.
"This isn't school. I'm their employee," he said. "This is a whole different ball game. Kids are here because they want to be here. My job is to make their time effective with what they have."
Students can choose the projects they work on. One is working on custom knives and another is creating metal handles for obsidian knives.
"The advanced kids can use it for open shop to develop the skills that they're interested in," he said. "At that point, this is kind of running as a makerspace. Most kids don't have all of the tools. They know what they want to do. They just need a place to do it."
Many participants are working toward becoming certified in welding.
"It's a feather in your cap to have your welding certificate before you turn 18," Richards said.
Meadow Copher, a former student of Richards' at Estacada High School, was working on a certified weld piece during a meeting of the group Tuesday, Feb. 16. She said she appreciates being able to continue with welding after it was removed from the high school's offering.
Richards spoke to the importance of students being able to explore career technical education. According to data from the Oregon Department of Education, 93% of students at Estacada High School who participated in these types of classes graduated from high school in four years.
"Some students want to do vocational, hands-on stuff," Richards said.
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