Students asked for better education and employment opportunities at the “Give the Youth a Voice” Town Hall event Aug. 8.
Kingman High School’s woodworking and cabinet making classes offer skill sets that can put them on the paths to well-paying jobs after high school.
In his 17 years as a woodshop teacher at KHS, Calvin Kupser has seen things change and some things stay the same. It’s what’s changed that could help graduates start life out of high school getting paid a livable wage.
Thanks to grants from Western Arizona Vocational Education/Joint Technical Education District, six Computer Numerical Control Shopbot desktop routers and a larger 5-foot-by-8-foot CNC router were purchased to give students the opportunity to learn the design, coding and manufacturing skills that industries crave, especially Kingman Airport-based businesses such as American Woodmark, Laron and I-Corp.
“I would say I know about 20 of my former students who work out at the airport,” Kupser said.
The CNC routers are capable of making signs, plaques, 3-D models and smaller parts for larger projects.
American Woodmark is one of those businesses that helps schools in more ways than one. When they’re not employing local graduates, they’re donating money to make sure those grads are ready for the real world.
Kupser said the cabinet maker has donated approximately $3,500 to the program in the last two years.
“American Woodmark has been very supportive of us,” he said.
Those donations go toward kids who have difficulty paying for supplies as well as woodworking necessities such as saw blades, router bits and sandpaper. It also goes toward new parts if one of the machines breaks down.
Woodworking 1 class students pay a $25 fee, which covers wood, stains, glue and other materials. The Woodworking 1 class comes with a $10 fee that mostly offsets the costs of machine maintenance and helps purchase new blades and bits. Students also have to pay for their own wood, which can run between $100 and $700 dollars, depending on the project.
They’ve built an assortment of projects including tables, entertainment centers, bed frames and gun cabinets. One student built a herringbone pattern dining room table that ran him nearly $600.
The elective classes run a year each and start with Woodworking 1, where students learn basic safety and tool operation.
They’ll finish each semester by building a small project such as a table or bookshelf. Woodworking 2 and 3 are more of a design and building phase, and they build everything from the ground up.
“They’ll work out the problems on paper before construction,” Kupser said. “They build everything from scratch. Nothing is prefabricated.”
The precision manufacturing class is where the CNC Shopbots come in. Junior Jacob Brambley has yet to design and build anything elaborate, but knows where the skills can take him.
“I hope to learn this program so I can go into a local business without the need for further training,” he said. “The businesses are looking for this kind of stuff.”
The four levels of woodworking cover everything from safety to what types of wood are best for certain projects. The Shopbots are an added bonus toward preparation for post-high school employment.
“The kids get quite a bit of experience in here,” Kupser said. “I would hope they pursue this either as a hobby or for work.”
Kupser has about 100 students attending this year’s classes. Eight of the Woodworking 3 students started their Wednesday morning finishing projects and starting others.
A graduation math requirement is covered for students who take three years of woodworking, something Kupser says has far more practical purposes for many students as opposed to frustrating algebra or calculus classes.
“It’s not like they’re sitting in class doing a bunch of equations,” he said. “They can put this math to work in a practical application outside of school.”
The woodworking students agreed.
“I’m taking this for the math credit,” said junior Levi Franklin. “Plus it’s fun.”
Junior Andrew Nichols has already used woodworking skills at home.
“I had to build a chicken coop,” he said. “This class helped me figure out how big it needed to be.”
Woodworking can be therapy as well.
Junior Taylor Reed was applying stain to a cedar chest started by her brother, Austin, who passed away this summer. He started the chest his sophomore year and would’ve been a senior this year.
Taylor has been taking the wood classes since her freshman year and at one point, the siblings worked together.
“My brother said this would be fun,” she said. “It’s a class I actually enjoy.”
The student’s time in the shop is part arithmetic, part hands-on workmanship and part not having to sit in another class scribbling notes.
As the bell for second period rang and the teens pulled a quick clean-up duty, the looks in their faces slowly shifted from relaxation to doom. Starting the day in a shop class seemed to be the right way to go.
“It’s better than taking a regular class,” Franklin said.