In January I began volunteering in ‘Cool School’, an after-school program in a local highschool that opens up the wood, metal and auto shops to kids of all ages and abilities, one day a week, 3 – 8 pm.
Cool School has simple guidelines for kids: be safe and have fun, and correspondingly simple guidelines for volunteer mentors: help kids be safe and have fun and ‘meet kids where they’re at’. For the mentors, who, excluding me are retired tradesmen, that means no lesson plans, no binders, no tests. Just answer kids’ questions, help guide them in new learning experiences, and share your expertise.
Also welcome in Cool School are parents, to come and be with their children to share projects and also expertise.
Cool School learners come from miles around, and various school backgrounds, one day a week.
The results are amazing! Each week there are plenty of kids (boys and girls) and parents, and lots of sawdust flying, machines turning, welding and casting, and parts getting swapped out in cars generally past their prime. And there’s lots of learning, peer mentoring and ‘scaffolding’ experiences.This week’s cutout project becomes next month’s cabinetmaking project.
Cool School is the brainchild of Roy Boutilier, who began the project years ago and is a retired machinist himself. Each week Roy is one busy bee, answering questions and helping kids draw their first welding bead, bend a pipe or blast some sand.
Cool School also wouldn’t exist without the support of the local Community School which has a mandate to provide programs for kids in this school district who are at some risk. In this case the Community School helped Roy and CS with some materials funding and insurance. Until a few years ago Roy and his wife personally underwrote all the program costs, adding up to a few thousand dollars each year.
At a time when we are striving to provide more opportunities to kids for ‘hands-on’ learning and exposure to trade skills, and nurture Constructivist experiences, Cool School is a near-perfect fit for just about everyone. And it’s sure one answer about getting kids exposed to tradeskills to help offset the oft-trumpeted “looming skilled worker shortage.”
As for me, I’m having a blast getting re-acquainted with skills I first learned in my shop programs way back when and enjoying the smell of sawdust and cutting oil as sweet aromatherapy.
Overall, Cool School is … very cool!