After 10 years of being an art/storage room, the Bismarck High School shop is once again alive with the sounds of tools and the smell of sawdust.
The district’s industrial technology program has been resurrected this school year after coming to an end in 2011.
Randy Crites and Todd Varhalla are the teachers overseeing the program.
One of the reasons the program initially ended, they said, was because of the emphasis at the state level on preparing students for college.
They decided to bring the program back after talking to administration and seeing what their students were moving on to after high school.
“We didn't see all of them going to college,” Crites said. “We saw a lot of them going into skilled trades and then we felt like we weren't preparing them for that.
"We also send students to UniTec at North County, and they were going over there unprepared. They just weren't as prepared as what they should have been.”
The maintenance staff, with the help of a few students, spent the summer getting the shop ready for equipment and students. They hauled stuff out, repainted the walls, cleaned the windows, cleaned and repainted the floor, as well as rewired for the new equipment.
“You know how art rooms are,” Crites said. “Kids paint on walls, so there was there's a lot of history behind this paint.”
The response to the return of the program has been overwhelmingly positive.
“People are glad that the tools are back in here and the kids have the opportunity to do this,” Varhalla said.
The classes are all full. Crites is teaching one class for juniors and seniors and Varhalla is teaching three classes for seventh graders through sophomores.
In the class this year, the students will be building projects with wood, everything from bird houses to pieces of furniture. Crites said they are starting simple with some high goals.
“We've even got a couple of outside projects on the back burner, like we are wanting a pavilion and even like a dust collector here,” he said. “We'd like it outside, so building a building for that.”
Some of the equipment the students will have the chance to use are a table saw, jointer and planer, shaper, spindle sander, band saw, drill press, and miter saw.
The Saw Stop table saw, which has skin-sensing technology to protect hands, was donated by Cabinet Masters in Ironton.
Crites said they also had other donations for the programs including gift cards for personal protective equipment from Harbor Freight and lumber from Alcorn Saw Mill in Des Arc. Gifford Lumber Company in Farmington has given them the opportunity to purchase some equipment at cost. And they were able to get a school discount at Grizzly Industrial in Springfield.
Other than wood, Varhalla said they also plan to add some units teaching students about the basics of electricity, plumbing, and home maintenance.
“We’d love to give them a leg up in the trades, going onto a job site having more skills in their tool bag,” Varhalla said.
On top of opportunities through UniTec, they also hope the program will open doors to students through US Tool’s Industry and Education Partnership.
In the next couple of years, they were hoping to add metal work and a computer-aided design program.
“This is just beginning,” Bismarck High School Principal Abe Warren said. “We hope to keep growing it, so hopefully it's the first step in many.”
August board meeting
In its August meeting, the Bismarck School District Board of Education approved the tax rate and several hires.
According to Superintendent Jason King, the board set the tax rate at 4.2271.
The board members also approved policy 0342, which is an annual policy they adopt regarding conflict of interest.
They approved the hiring of elementary teachers Jenna Meador and Kimberly Holifield and bus driver Sandy Hinde, as well as several extracurricular program staff members.
July board meeting
The Bismarck school board also met on July 13 in a quick meeting and approved several hires.
According to King, Joe Jackson was approved as a secondary physical education teacher, as well as the varsity boys basketball coach and an assistant coach for track and field.
Varhalla was hired as the head coach for track and field.
Debbie Fisher was approved as the PAT coordinator.
Nikki Overfelt-Chifalu is a reporter for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.