About 12 students huddled around woodworker Alex Brede in Central Elementary’s outdoor covered area after school, as he demonstrated a safe sawing technique. After going over a couple safety reminders, Brede sent the students out to their own work benches.
“I’m done sawing, because I want you guys to do your own work!” he said, resulting in excited giggles and fist pumps from the Central students.
This October, Brede and third grade teacher Laura Boynton have been teaching an exciting after-school woodworking class. Not only does the class teach students a skill they can use for life, but it also imparts lessons of independence, self-esteem, and perseverance.
“You expect to mess up, because you’re learning something new,” Brede said. “I tell them, ‘Not the end of the world, it’s just a piece of wood. We’ll just work with it.’”
So far, Central’s students are having a blast using grown-up tools to create wooden boats and more.
“I had kids ask every day last week, ‘Is it woodworking again today?’” said Boynton. “They just love it!”
Because students are using the same, full-sized tools adult woodworkers would use, safety is paramount in the after-school class. Only older students at Central (3-5th graders) can take the class. Boynton and Brede closely supervise the group of students while they work, and constantly (but gently) remind students of safety rules such as carrying tools down by your side.
During one class, Brede showed students how to use a tool called the “alligator” which can round the edges of a piece of wood. He emphasized the importance of clutching the tool on both ends with both hands.
“Can the alligator bite my hands if I’m holding with both hands?” he asked. The kids all yelled, “No!”
Brede, a retired elementary teacher, has taught woodworking classes for kids for 42 years. He said most students he’s taught have developed a passion for the craft.
“I haven’t encountered many kids who don’t have an attraction to it,” Brede said. “Some kids, it isn’t for them. But for most kids, it’s a really gratifying experience.”
Boynton said the woodworking class is empowering for students and provides another opportunity for kids to shine.
“It’s really important to bring in as many skills in as we can for the kids that struggle with academics,” she said. “Even if you’re not great at math, there’s something for you here. And they get a lot of math here, too – they have to measure!”
Fourth grader Josiah Rodriguez said he loved the woodworking class.
“It’s just a really good experience,” he said. “Getting to work with saws and all these other tools is cool.”
Fellow fourth grader Belle Failing said she hopes to use these new skills to make a canoe.
“I love how I’m learning to use new tools,” she said.