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Numbers are pointing up for WoodLINKS

Director sees success in the group's latest recruitment as the organization has added six schools during the last year

A coffee table by students from Bert Christenson's woodworking class at Westosha Central High School in Salem, Wis.

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WoodLINKS USA is quickly attracting new member schools throughout the nation. National director Mark Smith gave an informal status report in September, verifying that the six new schools that joined as members in the last year are just a sign of what's to be expected in the years to come.

The WoodLINKS organization is an industry-education partnership designed to give woodworking students a chance to get industry certification and network with woodworking companies in their geographical areas. Ideally, this will broaden society's outlook towards careers in the woodworking industry in future years. Currently, there are about 100 member schools from 22 states.

Two new member schools are in Wisconsin - Westosha Central High School in Salem, and New London High School in New London. The woodworking programs are directed by Bert Christensen and Andy Fuhs, respectively.

Christensen is beginning to incorporate the WoodLINKS' program into his curriculum and looks forward to the challenges and rewards it will bring.

"I will be phasing the program in over the next two years," says Christensen. "The reason I chose to join WoodLINKS was a feeling of isolation and a lack of knowing if what I was choosing to teach to my students is what I should be teaching them. WoodLINKS provides the support and structure that allows me to show administrators and community members that what I am teaching is relevant, accepted nationwide and worthwhile for my students."

From a geographical perspective, WoodLINKS has had a lot of success in Wisconsin. Smith says this is because the organization hired Steve Ehle as a part-time membership coordinator in that state.

"It's possible that by the end of this school year we'll have about 40 schools in Wisconsin. The key to that is having a state director out there. With me working at the national level, I cannot get out on the field like Steve can because I have so many things I'm doing on a daily basis," says Smith, adding that WoodLINKS is looking to bring on membership coordinators in other states.

Recently, WoodLINKS board members voted to cut about $100,000 from the organization's budget. The group is working on several fund-raisers to replace the money and reach WoodLINKS' goals in the years to come. One strategy is to seek contributions form large companies, as well as attempting to get 1,000 small woodworking business owners to make a $100 contribution per year. The fund-raising plans are ultimately designed to help WoodLINKS bring on more part-time coordinators in other states. WoodLINKS will convene a board meeting in November in Chicago to discuss these issues.

Paradise Valley High School in Phoenix is another new member school. Smith says WoodLINKS is lucky to have a volunteer coordinator, Mark Roberts, in Arizona. Robert's knowledge of the woodworking community is helping strengthen the organization's ties in the Southwest.

Gooding High School is the first school in Idaho to join WoodLINKS, led by instructor Bill Perry.

"We're hoping that he does a good job that will influence the area. Anytime a program is going well, the school administrators talk about that at their meetings, so that could be the first open window in the state," says Smith.

Perry says he needed to join WoodLINKS to keep his cabinetry and millwork program alive, as the state recently required all professional technical education programs at a charter school to have a national certification for their industry. WoodLINKS provides such a certification for students who meet the criteria.

St. Clair High School, led by instructor Craig Kindel, is the second WoodLINKS program in Missouri. Smith says WoodLINKS is currently looking for ways to get Kindel some up-to-date machinery for his program.

Rogers High School in Puyallup, led by instructor Jon Cerio, is the program's sixth school in Washington. Smith says he's also been in contact with Moe Broom, supervisor of the state's Technology and Industry Pathway Program, about the organization's interest in the program.

"[Broom] wants me to talk to a large number of technology teachers because he wants more teachers to hear about WoodLINKS, so he has invited us out to Seattle in November."

Contact: WoodLINKS USA, P.O. Box 445, Tuscola, IL 61953. Tel: 217-253-3239.

This article originally appeared in the November 2009 issue.

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