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Hardwood industry finds much value in shop class

Please allow me a couple minutes of your valuable time. My name is Danny Utz, and I am writing on behalf of Norstam Veneers Inc.
Norstam Veneers Inc. is the quiet company located as far south as you can go and still be in Harrison County. We employ around 100 blue-collar workers. For the past 13 or 14 years, we have been the proud sponsors of CCHS’ participation in the Michigan Industrial & Technology Education Society of Region 19. We donate lumber to two students each year so they can produce furniture for the Michigan competition. We also donate money to help offset the travel expenses.
It is for that reason we write this letter. As sponsors, we feel we have made an important investment in young men’s and women’s lives that have traveled to Michigan every year, not only to compete but also to win. As I said, we are a quiet company, but when we see one of our investments being threatened, well, we need to say something.
Randy Coleman has been a great role model for our kids and a positive influence in our community. Randy has been successful in putting together an award-winning program, setting very high standards for other CCHS school programs to follow. Randy has also been a mentor to Jeremy Ledford, a young man able and ready to take industrial arts into the future.
I am not sure of the reasoning that took place behind the decision to do away with shop. I will not even try to approach this on an academic level but more from a common sense approach. If my memory serves me right, education should be a place to teach, train, inform, refine and instruct students in the knowledge of a subject that will benefit them as well as their community. I will tell you right now that not all subjects taught today serve as a benefit for anyone. It is not my purpose to bash the education program but to point out some facts about shop as a part of the education program.
About eight years ago, I had the privilege of meeting with the teachers of CCHS to discuss what companies need from students going into the workforce. I am a firm believer that good work ethics and a positive attitude are a number one requirement. The question is how do you teach students to have this behavior? Again, I approach this from common sense, the more a student feels good about themselves the better they will try. Being able to accomplish a task and being able to feel responsible all add up to self-esteem. Students who take shop and manufacture a product have a right to feel good about their accomplishment. I still have some of the items I made in shop: a jewelry box, a wooden swordfish and a wooden eagle. It may not be a three-point shot, a touch down, a musical performance or a straight-A report card, but it feels just as good to the student who built something with their own two hands.
So why do we want to take away something that builds self-esteem in our students? We had about 20 students on a tour of our plant (recently), and it was sad to think they will never be able to develop a talent that no one on the school board appreciates. It was also sad to know they will not have the opportunity to make it to our Wall of Fame; 26 plaques are hanging on our wall that represent unbelievable winners of the Michigan Industrial & Technology competition.
I appreciate all the solid wood furniture that helps make our house a home. I know it was not by accident that we have beautifully designed furniture. The skilled hands of craftsmen that had been trained, maybe in a school shop class, created such family heirlooms.
Even if our students do not pursue a career in woodworking, it could become a wonderful hobby. Today, I know of bankers, doctors and other white-collar workers who enjoy working in their wood shops.
The hands-on training that takes place in the wood shops of our schools is one of the most efficient ways to learn. Rather than take this type of education away, we should find more ways to have hands-on training.
I trust the South Harrison school trustees will make the right decision concerning the future of our blue-collar workers. Beware. You may be burying something that is not dead yet. Today, I am reading an article called, ‘Blue collar hiring: Not so blue.’ Experts say that many manufacturers are hiring workers despite headlines about big layoffs. Several experts say that the steep decline in the nation’s manufacturing base in earlier decades is probably behind us and that the remaining jobs are more competitive and productive, and thus more secure.
Editor’s note: Danny Utz resides in Corydon.