I’m a DIY-junkie, and not afraid to admit it. Sometime around college I got the bug that had previously claimed my older brothers, both my parents, and my grandfather, to build and craft and make things.
My college, Warren Wilson College, had a somewhat similar model to what Twin Rivers Charter School is striving towards; we had a work program that all the students took part in, we spent lots of time outdoors thinking and talking about the natural world, and we tended towards hands-on learning whenever possible. My junior and senior year of college were spent working on the campus Landscaping crew, where I was taught by a surly Vietnam veteran named Bruce how to properly build things. His lessons were often interspersed with bizarre colloquialisms that, for reasons of decency, I probably shouldn’t repeat here.
Despite the confusion I often felt when faced with one of his infamous “Bruce-isms,” he was a fantastic carpenter and filled me with a strong desire to continue building things on my own and confidence in my ability to do so.
So last quarter when we were planning out our electives, I realized that I had a strong desire to follow in Bruce’s footsteps (minus the strange off-color comments) and teach our students carpentry. I was a bit concerned, because all of our cuts would have to be made with hand saws (apparently our insurance provider is concerned about minors using spinning metal blades) which becomes fairly time-consuming in a 40 minute period. We managed, but it slowed us down for sure.
However, by the end of the quarter the handful of gentlemen in my carpentry class had built a sturdy, functional work bench that ideally will be around for years to come, a new door for the greenhouse, and a guitar rack for our school’s collection of (nearly) brand-new guitars. We have also started the design process for a chicken tractor (more on that at a later date) for the farm.
Today was our last day of class for the quarter so I asked the students for their thoughts on the past couple of months: what they’ve learned, how they’ve grown, what they enjoyed, and so on.
The students recalled one of the most important lessons in carpentry: “Measure twice, cut once,” and reflected that they now felt more confident in being able to calculate angles and make precise cuts by hand. They also said that they felt more confident in being able to think through a project all the way from the initial design process to the actual construction. Another part of the process we discussed at length was the acquiring of materials; nearly all of the materials for our projects were recycled, either from former construction projects in the school or obtained from BRING recycling in Springfield. In addition to being more cost-effective, recycled materials are more environmentally friendly. Recycled materials can also add a thematic aesthetic to a project; for example, the dividers for our guitar rack were made from old Pulaski handles salvaged from the farm’s stockpile of scrap wood. (Pulaskis, for the uninitiated, are the ax-like fire-fighting tool that grace our school’s logo).
As far as wider life lessons gained from this class, the students had two major lessons to share.
They commented that they had initially had their doubts during the initial stages that our designs would actually work out into anything functional at the end, but they were extremely proud of the finished products that came from our designs. So, things can work out in the end even if you have some initial doubts.
Second, one of the students expressed an increased respect for property. He said that the time and effort involved in making things by hand really gives you perspective on how much work it takes to make anything, and that more students should take the carpentry class to gain that understanding.
I can happily say that I’m extremely proud of these guys, and looking forward to another quarter of working with them (and hopefully others too).
To see a video showcasing the carpentry class’s handiwork, take a look at the Twin Rivers Facebook Page. The students in the class were somewhat camera-shy, so I kept their identities secret as per their request.