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Shop teacher fights to keep his program

Instructor says woodworking technology curriculum at Rhode Island school could be on the chopping block for next year

The wood technology and manufacturing program at the Davisville Middle School in North Kingstown, R.I., is facing extinction because of budget cuts, according to instructor Mike Berndt. Berndt, who has been teaching woodworking classes at the school since 1990, recently received a letter that his program could be cut for the 2009-10 academic year.

In effort to keep the program in existence, he and several of his eighth-grade students plan to attend an upcoming budget meeting where they will present school budget committee members with pens that they turned in his woodworking class. Each pen will be accompanied by a note, asking the members to consider what the program does for the children and the community.

There are about 550 students in the school, and Berndt sees about 535 throughout the school year. He teaches grades six, seven, and eight. The school has an exploratory curriculum, similar to many middle schools, designed to give all students some experience in various educational fields, so students go to Berndt’s class as part of their class rotations.

The program operates in a graduated fashion. Once the sixth-graders master the basic skills, they progress to the use of hand tools, equipment operation, planning and sketching. From there, they go to seventh grade and learn more advanced skills.

Berndt tells his students how to solve real-world problems and how woodworking is a direct application of what they’re learning in the academic classroom. He strives to help students understand and read things from a technical point of view and apply them in a hands-on manner.

“The problem is [students] don’t naturally grasp the concept. I have to tell them that every day. They say ‘show me how this relates to our other classes,’ and I show them how the math applies, for example, said Berndt.”

Berndt points out that standardized testing in his region and throughout the country shows students have a weakness in measurement and geometry.

“We need to have more applications for these kids to learn better, and I think doing away with the program is going to hurt them in that area. I’m hoping they’re not going to do away with it.

“I think every kid has the possibility of going to college, but some don’t want to. They want to use their brains and their hands to create. It’s amazing to see what some of these kids can go off and do for themselves, provided they’re given the opportunity.”

The school’s wood program receives about $3,000 annually to purchase wood, supplies and mini-lathes, which are used by the eighth-graders to turn pens for the Sawmill Creek Freedom Pen project. About 250 pens will be sent to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan this school year.

“The kids love it because it’s important. They’re doing something for somebody, for soldiers to write home,” adds Berndt.

Berndt can be reached by e-mail at

This article originally appeared in the July 2009 issue.

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