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Tools for success

July 7, 2018 GMT

ROCK FALLS – In the belly of Rock Falls High School resides a classroom where students swap pencils and paper for steel and TIG welders.

This nontraditional trades class, which features students of all skill levels, is preparing students for industries in need of welders, technicians and other skilled workers.

In the fall, instructors Matt Boostrom and Derick Cox started having students make decorative signs out of scrap metal plates, honing their craft and selling the finished products at Minor Treasures, 219 W Second St.

The money raised is put back into the classroom.


“We’ve got old World War II equipment that, frankly, needs updating,” Boostrom said.

On the plus side, last summer the school acquired a $35,000 CNC plasma cutter.

That’s what they use to make the signs, many of which feature words of inspiration in different scripts and accented with stylish arrows.

They use computer-aided design programs to design a sign, which takes about an hour, then they program it into the plasma cutter.

It’s not only the shimmer of new tools that’s got students’ attention: Creating the signs is a skill, a real world application that will help them succeed in a field where knowledge of the craft and mastery of the tools is king.

“How can we prepare students for the workforce if they don’t practice with the tools they will be using?” Boostrom said.

Boostrom – a special education teacher since 2006 who moved into the industrial technology role in 2015 – also knows the importance of offering his students a career path that doesn’t require college.

“There are just some people who can’t learn in a traditional classroom who succeed and become leaders down here,” Boostrom said.

More often than not, the special ed students are the ones taking leadership roles, teaching the more academically inclined students their skills, he said.

Boostrom set up a booth at the recent Summer Splash along Rock Falls’ riverfront, so many residents already have seen their work.

More importantly, though, the class getting noticed by local companies such as IFH Group, which makes fluid-handling equipment in Rock Falls, by Menk and Astec Mobile Screens in Sterling, by Etnyre in Oregon – all companies in need of good welders.

“We’ll have industries that come down here and recruit right into a job that pays $30 an hour and will train them to fill roles they have being vacated by retiring professionals,” Boostrom said.


In a day and age when schools are strapped for cash, these instructors have come up with a pretty good plan for paying their own way.

But it’s more than that.

It’s all part of a mission, Cox said.

“We want to change the overall attitude towards trades.”

Where to get them

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px Helvetica} Rock Falls High School industrial arts students are making and selling machine-cut signs that feature inspirational words – think love, faith, family – have a rustic appeal, look great indoors, but also are tough enough to withstand the weather.

The come in a variety of script styles, and some are acccented with arrows.

A typical sign is about 30 inches long and a foot tall, and costs $15 to $18, although smaller signs and decorative arrows sell for as little as $8.

Custom pieces also are available, and can be made as large and 4-by-4 feet, and cost up to $50.

A wide variety are on sale at Minor Treasures, 119 W Second St. in Rock Falls, which is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday and Wednesday through Saturday.

Find Minor Treasures on Facebook or call 847-802-9661 to get in touch with Boostrom, to place a custom order or for more information.