The sound of handsaws and chatter filled the high-ceiling workshop at La Pine High School recently as groups of teens, many clad in flannel shirts or trucker hats, planned out or started building various woodworking projects while the smell of fresh-cut lumber wafted through the air.

The students are part of the school’s new state-funded construction technology program, designed to help them learn real-world skills that can be used in building trades right out of high school. The classes represent part of a larger trend in Oregon to give high school graduates job-ready skills.

In December 2017, Bend-La Pine Schools received over $660,000 worth of grants from the Oregon Department of Education for career and technical education classes, also known as CTE. While $328,000 went to Bend High School’s culinary classes, including developing a food truck program starting this year, $335,000 was allocated to La Pine High to create a manufacturing and construction program.

The first class began this school year, taught by Cameron ­Salvitelli, a recent Oregon State University graduate who worked in the university’s Student Logging Training Program and also spent three summers at Boeing as a machine technical preparation intern. He’ll be in charge of La Pine’s manufacturing technology program, which now consists of a woodworking course, but in future years will expand to classes covering carpentry, construction, welding and more.

Because it’s still early in the trimester, Salvitelli, 23, said his students have mostly focused on measuring skills, basic woodshop safety and assembling some of the shop’s machines, including table saws, an oscillating drum sander and more. Despite not having any major woodworking projects complete yet, many students in the class said they already enjoyed participating in a more hands-on course.

“I’m trying to pick up as many skills as I can before I graduate, and I feel like working with wood is going to help me set up a good future for my life,” said senior Gavaughn Bates, 18. “I know there’s going to be need for construction (workers), and it’s a really fun hobby as well.”

Some students agreed with Bates, saying they hoped the skills learned in the woodworking class would help them find a job after high school or at least be helpful in home improvement projects or as a hobby.

“I think it’ll be useful, for sure, as adults,” said senior Jose Guillen, 18. “I want to (own) a business, so I think it’ll be useful down the line.”

Students are now in teams building projects that will be useful for the class in future years. For example, Guillen, sophomore Devin ­VanDyke and sophomore Mistee Church are building a folding cut-off table that mounts to a table saw and catches wood waste. Bates and sophomore Logen Matthews were working on a cabinet for tools — the one the class uses now is falling apart. Matthews, 15, said he felt the woodworking class gave him knowledge and skills he could use outside the classroom.

“A lot of people say, ‘School doesn’t teach you anything that you need in real life,’ but this kind of does because it’s actually building stuff,” he said. “You’ll never know how many times you’ll need that in real life.”

In the class, students not only learn the technical skills of how to build objects, but also the business side of construction. Before building a project, students have to figure out exactly how much material they need, how much the materials will cost and how long the construction will take. Salvitelli said he also was teaching his students the “soft skills” necessary to be a competent employee.

“I’m helping enforce disciplinary things like showing up on time, work ethic, preparedness, so showing up with your pencil and safety glasses every single day and a good attitude,” he said. “You do that in the real world, you’re a trainable, hireable employee.”

Salvitelli said he’s reached out to local companies for partnerships, both to help his program and to let the companies know about potential future workers. For example, the Interfor sawmill in Gilchrist provides material for the class, and Bend-based Pahlisch Homes is organizing field trips to the construction site of the company’s Crescent Creek housing development in La Pine.

Vic Russell, the owner and founder of La Pine-based Vic Russell Construction, said although he hasn’t done anything with the class yet, “we’re going to be a participant in whatever they need.” He said he was hopeful that the program would produce more skilled construction employees in the Central Oregon region.

“I’ve been in business 45 years, and the change in the last 5 years … trying to get dependable, qualified employees is almost impossible,” he said. “Our culture has ingrained in society that (students) need an education, and we’re dealing with people coming out of college who can’t slap their butt with both hands.”

Salvitelli said he hopes his classes will turn students into the type of workers employers like Russell would appreciate,

“If they can measure and they can design and learn to work in a team, then they can have success in the shops program here, and outside,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7854, jhogan@bendbulletin.com

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