Iowa City students learn skills at an industrial technology facility

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa City high school student Jerry Mwenemkamba signed up for an industrial technology course because he thought it might teach him life skills that would serve him well after the graduation.

At first it looked boring, he admitted.

More than a month later, Mwenemkamba now sees it as an important course that “everyone should take”.

While not all students are expected to enroll in a class in the high school’s industrial technology program, those who do benefit from a new facility at City High located in what was previously the cafeteria. from school.

A new cafeteria, as part of an addition to the school, was approved in 2018, freeing up space that accommodates an industrial technology facility, among other classrooms. There hadn’t been a permanent industrial tech facility at City High since the school’s performing arts addition was built on the site of the former industrial tech store in 2013, the principal said John Bacon in an email.

There is no charge for City High students who engage in these classes.

The space isn’t fully finished, but it will be a “magnificent shop,” said industrial arts professor John Reynolds. Press-Citizen.

“I would say it set a good precedent for the district in terms of what we should have if we really want to support this area, and unfortunately my area requires a lot of space. It’s very noisy. It’s very expensive and it’s dangerous,” he said. “It’s a hard sell.”

When Aruni Baloci was asked what he thought was especially cool about attending an industrial technology class at City High, he had a simple answer.

“I was holding a big hammer,” he said.

Will Karr, another student in Reynolds’ classes, said his father is a local entrepreneur and it was thanks to him that he got into the trades.

“It opens up new vistas,” Karr said. “Especially as I got more into it, it’s like you’re looking at something, ‘Hey, it’s not for coding. It’s not fair.’ But it makes you want to fix it, now that you know how.

Karr explained that students in Reynolds’ classes need to show up and, more importantly, be safe.

Reynolds’ approach to his class is three-pronged. Students must be safe. It’s primordial.

When they feel safe, they can have fun. And they need fun to learn, Reynolds said.

Students have the opportunity to learn traditional woodworking, as well as take courses in reading and creating blueprints, welding, basics of 3D printing, and more.

The goal is that by the time students leave the program, they know almost every tool that would be found in most trade shops, know the order of the steps when building something, and all the careers that come with it. offer to them.

Reynolds went to art school, became a carpenter, then worked as an art teacher before becoming a professor of industrial technology. He started at City High in 1999.

He said he wanted to nurture students’ skills — whether in carpentry, photography or something else — so they can always have something to rely on as they pursue different careers throughout their lives.

For Reynolds, it’s not about choosing between a job or graduate school. These are students pursuing both.

The sheer desire to work with their hands attracts students to these classes, Reynolds said. He speculated that some of this interest actually stems from social media when people watch videos about restoring objects on YouTube or scroll through people carving things on TikTok.

“It really is golden hour for our region, and many of my colleagues have mentioned it. We need trades people. People are starting to appreciate skilled work a lot more,” he said.

Days of queuing for lunch and meals are gone inside the old cafeteria space.

Today, it houses equipment such as the SawStop table saw, whose spinning blade stops immediately upon contact with skin.

There is also a set of four walls that resemble a small house, where students learn the basics of home wiring.

The return of an industrial technology facility to City High resolves an equity issue that arose since Liberty High and West High had a facility, Reynolds said.

Until now, Reynolds had settled – literally – into temporary spaces. But he stressed that he always had the support of the Iowa City School District, making it clear that it was not his shop.

“Whether I’m teaching here or not, anyone would have done the same thing,” he said.

The facility and classes act as a “feeding program” for the Kirkwood Regional Center in Coralville, which offers classes in construction, engineering, welding and more to high school students.

Over the years, it became apparent that there was a need for both the regional center in Kirkwood and a facility at City High, Bacon said in an email.

But seeing this installation come to fruition was not the only obstacle.

“I would say the biggest thing that’s going to get in the way of this program is that it’s impossible — I’m not kidding — to find professors of industrial technology,” Reynolds said.

Chris Shaw is the Recruitment and Counseling Coordinator in the Department of Applied Engineering and Technical Management at the University of Northern Iowa.

Within the department is the technology and engineering major, which prepares graduates to teach industrial arts in high schools.

According to the university’s website, the program trains more industrial technology teachers than “any other institution” in Iowa.

Shaw said the shortage is not just in Iowa but nationwide, saying he has principals and superintendents contacting him from South Carolina to Alaska looking for technical teachers. for their schools.

According to him, the shortage is the result of a significant difference in remuneration between teaching and working in industry. The starting salary for the latter is higher, and in some cases Shaw believes double what someone would earn in their first year of teaching.

“I think I graduated six students last year, and of those, only four became teachers,” he said.

This year, of the nine students who will graduate from the tech-ed program between December and May, Shaw said he already knew that two would not become tech teachers because they received industry job opportunities. much more paid.

Enrollment in the program hovers around 30, although the junior and senior classes are growing thanks to a few transfer students.

The program has seen some decline in student enrollment in recent years, Shaw said.

“It has been particularly difficult for the last three or four years. … I don’t know if it’s COVID-related or if it’s industry-related, but we’ve seen a little less interest from students wanting to break into the field of industrial technology education “, did he declare.

Students involved in industrial technology classes at West, Liberty, and City High will have a new opportunity to gain more hands-on experience next year.

Reynolds will teach a year-long course in which students will build a house.

Students will do as much work as possible, but they will be supervised by professionals, including electricians and plumbers.

One of the most rewarding things, Reynolds said, is seeing a student empowered when working with a table saw or some of the big tools around the facility.

“You can tell they are scared at first. … You can tell they are rather hesitant. And then at the end they’re empowered to say yes, if I can do it, I can apply that same type of strategy to other dangerous things, whether it’s driving or flying or being a heart surgeon or a rock climber or something like this,” Reynolds said.

“You can get close to these dangerous things and be fine.”

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