Programs in Utica Community Schools teach construction, technical skills

Ethan Smale, Editor in Chief

This is no ordinary classroom. The unmistakable scent of sawdust floods into the nose, country music fills the air, and students work individually or in small groups, completing various projects. The woodworking rooms at Henry Ford II and Eisenhower allow students to express their creativity while learning valuable skills.

“I get to work on a lot of different stuff,” HFII student Andrew Kovach said. “There’s a ton of diversity in projects.”

Many of these unique creations, centering around paddle and skate boards, end up on their social media pages. As a result, buzz surrounds the programs.

HFII was featured in SUP International magazine after students created a board for Sir Richard Branson, and after seeing their work, celebrities have reached out to have their own personalized boards. Country music star Kenny Chesney, and reality stars Ty Pennington and Paul de Gelder commissioned boards complete with students’ artwork in carvings and inlays.

“Paul de Gelder [Shark Week host] reached out for a board with a shark on it because he was attacked by a shark,” HFII teacher Christopher Davis said. “Next year we’ll be building a surfboard for 11-time World Surf League champion Kelly Slater. The kids are really excited about it; Slater is as big as it gets.”

Intricate details go into making the boards, with precise measurements needed to complete these custom woodworking pieces.

“We’re cutting out pieces of the board to make sun rays for the top,” HFII senior Johnathen Green said. “We have an extra cutout of the board to get exact measurements.”

Most projects take multiple weeks to complete, with special attention to the incorporated artwork.

“We cut out the center design [of Kenny Chesney’s board] with box cutters,” senior Kylee Castillo said, “and the skull with a laser.”

Whether students are working on their own, or with a group, they have the freedom to choose their projects.

“Right now we’re building longboards,” HFII student Adrian Carreon said. “My favorite part of the class has to be the chill environment.”

Students have their own personal projects.

“I’ve been working on my skateboard for about a week,” Eisenhower student Ashlee Staelgraeve said. “I plan to sand it and put a FOX racing logo on it, because I used to do motocross.”

HFII senior Heather Gravely wants to use her skills as a hobby, and possibly sell her work online.

“I really want to make really cool designed checker boards,” Gravely said, “or maybe my own paddle board.”

Several woodworking alumni have since started their own companies.

“I’ve had students that now own their own businesses,” teacher Ryan DeCardenas said. “Some have even come back to hire current students to work for them, because they know they have the skills.”

Alumni Alyssa Fiantaco returns to HFII throughout the week as an assistant teacher, sharing her success in the industry.

“I own my own woodworking company,” Fiantaco said. “It’s called AJ Designs and we make all sorts of things, but sell mostly pro-style cornhole boards.”

Because students are creating projects that interest them, the woodworking program has seen significant growth over the last few years.

“We didn’t want to simply build bird houses or shelves,” DeCardenas said. “Everything is student-centered and based around the projects the students actually want to do.”

Unique projects will continue to play a role in the wood programs.

“Davis is an amazing guy with a big heart and big dreams–not for himself, but his students. He’s always thinking of fun projects and what’s going to blow up for them and make them successful,” Fiantaco said. “He’s always asking, ‘What can I do to excite these kids more?’”

The success of these programs is reflected in the pieces, and motivates students to learn more.

“I love that I get to use all of the new equipment in the wood shop, HFII junior Abigail Bartold said. “I never thought I’d know how to use these types of tools and make cool things.”