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High school woodworking program can definitely thrive in the 21st century, according to a handful of shop instructors who shared the success stories of their programs.

While some instructors have mixed opinions on issues such as whether implementing technology training is necessary at the high school level, the general consensus is that exuding the right attitude is important to obtaining student interest as well as community and school support.

“The thing that vocational teachers face is the constant onslaught from everyone around them of ‘You’re teaching a hobby.’ And, of course, that does not engender very much respect with student enrollment and things like that,” says Mark Smith, national director of WoodLINKS U.S.A.

Some U.S. school districts already have stellar programs at the high school level, perhaps because they’re located in the heart of a progressive wood industry. But as a general rule, shop classes are looked at as dumping grounds and a place to send children that don’t want to learn, says Smith, who provided statistics that indicate only 30 percent of U.S. high schools have woodworking programs.

“There are about 45,000 public high schools in the U.S. and, at best, there are only about 14,000 woodshop programs left in some form or another.”

WoodLINKS, which currently has 85 member schools, including 15 new members in 2008, was established as a partnership between industry and education in the face of a critical shortage of skilled personnel entering the wood manufacturing industry. The program encourages a cooperative approach between the schools and their local woodworking businesses. Individual companies provide advice and materials to update students and teachers about the technologies and processes being used today.

“As industry gets involved, students get jobs and people see it’s not a hobby; it’s a career option, and that changes the perspective on what the program is in the eyes of students, parents and school administration,” says Smith.

A hands-on approach
Jack Grube, director of career and technical education at Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H., notes that only about 300 of the school’s 3,400 students take a woodworking class. As a result, his biggest challenge is creating ways to spark student interest and keep the support of his community.

“The problem is, to complete the woodworking program a student has to complete five different classes and most students don’t have the time in their schedule to fit all of that in. So we have hundreds of students when they start here and that tapers off along the way,” says Grube.

Grube believes the No Child Left Behind Act has contributed to the demise of woodworking and other technical and exploratory electives being offered in high schools because schools don’t want to risk losing their funding. Enacted in 2001, the federal legislation requires states to set standards and develop assessments regarding basic skills, which is tied to funding dispersal.