Rebuilding a foundation

Evart Public Schools students learning time-honored trade

EVART – The whirring of the table saw’s blade echoed throughout the large room and the smell of freshly cut lumber hung in the air.

Sawdust, wood glue and safety glasses — along with renewed enthusiasm — have returned to Evart Public Schools in the form of an industrial arts program for middle and high school students.

EPS Superintendent Shirley Howard said the district has been without industrial arts or woodworking for a few years as the district had to make difficult budget decisions.

“When it looked budget-wise like there was an opportunity to have it back this school year, the board was 100 percent supportive of the decision,” she said. “Having that type of class, that’s an opportunity as an elective for many students that’s a lifelong skill.”

Prior to this year, Howard said students were unable to take part in the opportunity provided by similar courses at the Mecosta Osceola Career Center, because of travel time and other academic demands.

“It just wasn’t an option for most of our students,” she said.

Once board members supported bringing the program back, Howard said with just weeks before the start of the school year, the district had to find an instructor. They found retired teacher Jim Misner, whose 30-year teaching career and background in fabrication was a good fit.

“We were able to find Jim at the last minute, and he had a lot of experience,” she said. “The week before and week of school starting in August, we were getting the bigger things arranged in the school. Luckily, the district had saved all the major equipment.”

Misner had moved to the Evart area in retirement when the district approached him to restart the industrial arts program.

“They wanted to restart the whole venture again,” he said. “And I agreed to do this on the interim basis until a permanent instructor can be found.”

With 105 students between the middle and high school classes, Misner said he sees a lot of enthusiasm from not only the students, but administrators and the community at the return of the program.

“There’s been really good support from the community,” he said. “It was a little surprising to see so many people there, and notice the work of the students on the Little Library.”

After a couple of years working for the City of Evart Department of Public Works, Misner said he was surprised how much he had missed teaching.

“I realized I had withdrawal from it a little more than I thought I would,” he said.

As classes began in August, Misner said students showed up ready to learn and get to work.

“A lot of the students have not had very much exposure to this because it has been away for a few years,” he said. “We’re starting out at the junior high and high school at the beginning, with the focus on basic skills that they can develop.

“Some students have some practice at home or with their grandfathers. They’re at different levels. Some are more naturally inclined and others are still searching out their abilities.”

Another thing to surprise Misner at the beginning of the year was the number of girls interested in the program.

“Forty percent of my students are female,” he said. “You don’t expect numbers like that, but they all are very interested in the class, and sometimes a little more focused on getting things done.”

Senior Megan Batten said she is taking the course to get more experience.

“I’ve done some things living at home and doing projects with my parents,” she said.

Though she isn’t sure woodworking will be more than a hobby later on in life, Batten said she enjoys doing the projects

Chase Schildhouse said he signed up for the class to learn more about woodworking.

“It’s really neat that you get to build all sorts of stuff,” the sophomore said.

Misner said students have caught on quickly the importance of time management, as class begins and they have to get their tools and get to work because the class is less than an hour long.

“This isn’t your typical classroom setting,” he added. “It’s taken time for them to earn my trust just as much as it has for me to earn their trust. There are no textbooks for this. We use manuals and that sort of thing with measuring charts for the different projects.

“Safety is a big thing with me, and the students are really buying into that,” he continued. “They’re learning proper tool use, tool safety and gradually learning to keep the shop clean. They understand that the focus is safety and that this environment can be life-changing in an instant.”

Misner said students are finding interests in all facets of woodworking that could lead them to more opportunities later in their educational careers.

“This is something that’s hands-on that wasn’t available to them before,” he said. “They realize there is a real place for that even with the technology culture out there.

“It’s also a program for folks who may not be academically inclined, but they find something they really enjoy about it. Then it becomes something they want to pursue, either at the career center or woodworking hobby. It’s always something they can fall back on even if they decide on something else.”

The program’s return may be in its infancy, but Misner said he believes they are setting a good foundation for the years to come.

“The district is going to determine where it wants the program to go,” he said. “We’re just getting started.

“For the program overall, I think some of the younger ones in the middle school, they may see that later on, the career center may be an option for them because of the programs it offers, and they may opt to do try that, because they received exposure here at Evart.”

Howard said she thinks it’s going well, considering they are only two-and-a-half months into the school year.

“I think the Little Free Libraries the middle school students worked on, showed there’s a real purpose for a program like that,” she said. “I think we’re expecting great things to come.

“I’ve heard many positive things from students and the community saying they are happy we were able to bring it back. It’s a great program for our kids and as long as we have the budget for it we will continue to have it.”