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Sutherlin High School wood shop students mentor fourth-graders in building stools

February 18, 2017 GMT

SUTHERLIN — The smell of saw dust filled the air as drills were buzzing and saws were cutting in a Sutherlin High School second period wood shop class on Wednesday. High school students were mentoring West Intermediate School fourth-graders to help them build personalized step stools.

“There’s a definite need in Douglas County for skilled people who can work,” said SHS wood shop instructor Josh Gary. “It’s also fun for elementary students to get hands-on learning and it’s great for high school students to share what they know and give back to the community.”

Each of the 12 elementary school classrooms at West School will get a turn to be bussed to the high school to partner with a high school student in the wood shop class where they participate in a project every other Wednesday.


“After a couple periods, the high school students saw how much fun the elementary students were having and how much they were getting out of it,” Gary said. “The high school students themselves were learning the skill better, because you learn something better when you teach it.”

The idea for the program came together after Gary and his wife, Quinn, a fourth-grade instructor at West School, discussed the possibility of high school students mentoring elementary school students for fun.

On Wednesday, Gary’s wife brought her fourth-grade class to the wood shop, where about 20 high school students showed about 25 fourth-graders how to build their own personal step stools in one period and then take them home.

“It’s fun to be around kids and to teach them skills that they can use when they get into high school,” said SHS junior Lane Miller, who thought woodworking could be a good career or hobby. “I also learned how to communicate with kids.”

Many of the stool pieces were precut, but fourth-graders still had some work to do on their own that involved sawing a 13-inch piece of wood with a hand saw and drilling screws into legs to attach them to a premade stool top.

“It’s fun to make stuff out of wood; I never really experienced it before,” said fourth-grader Markis Boehm. “I also learned how to use different tools like a saw that cuts easily.”

High schoolers pre-etched about six different logos onto stool tops with a computerized Handibot router such as the Oregon State University logo and the University of Oregon logo to name a few.

“I like how wood shop teaches me different skills that I might not have known and how to use different tools,” said freshman Nolan Carson.


Gary teaches five high school wood shop classes and one middle school wood shop class, so he likes to recruit students to take his classes.

“When I’m in high school, I want to take wood shop just like my brother, Cody,” said fourth-grader Rachel Riley. “I want it to be a hobby for me, because my dad is a drywaller, and he inspires me to build things.”

The high school wood shop is a large warehouse-sized building that’s filled with working tables, band saws, computerized routers and other wood-related implements and tools.

“This is fun, I love making stuff,” said fourth-grader Grant Munsey, who enjoyed using a computerized saw to etch his name onto the stool. “I’m going to use the stool to get things out of high places.”

Currently, Gary is writing a grant to fund similar mentoring projects in the future.

“It keeps the high school students engaged in the class,” Gary said. “Some of them are not great wood shop students, but they are skilled at helping little kids. Being able to teach a skill to someone is a job quality for all jobs.”

For more information about the Sutherlin High School wood shop program, call the high school at 541-459-9551.