Shop class still has appeal in Eagle Co. |

Shop class still has appeal in Eagle Co.

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Preston Utley/Vail DailyAdriana Vasquez, 13 gets help sanding down a piece of wood from shop teacher Kevin Kottenstette Tuesday at Gypsum Creek Middle School.

GYPSUM, Colorado ” It’s the one classroom in Gypsum Creek Middle School that always smells like sawdust.

The kids file in, strap on goggles and start working.

It’s loud ” belt sanders, drill presses and hand saws create a sharp buzz over the chatter of 20 or so eighth graders. They’re all focused on shaping their small wooden stools, the kind you can fold up and take on a camping trip.

Some students, like Adriana Vasquez, head for the sanders to buff out the rough spots. Others are still cutting wood and putting together the small pieces that eventually, if done right, will allow these stools to unfold and stand upright without wobbling.

One student accidentally gets a drillbit stuck in one of the legs. He needs the teacher’s help to get it out. Other students are finishing up, and their stools are starting to look nice, like something you’d buy from a furniture store.

As the class nears its end, the students sweep the floors, put away tools and turn on the big vacuums that suck up the piles of saw dust. In comes the next class, all sixth graders who are building intricate wooden clocks and calendars ” gifts they’d be proud to give their grandparents.

You’ll see that wood shop hasn’t changed much over the years. Its fundamental essence ” teaching students how to safely use very grown-up tools to create simple, useful crafts ” is the same as it’s always been.

And there will always be students drawn to that kind of work, says Kevin Kottenstette, the shop teacher at Gypsum Creek Middle School.

“Taking raw material and turning it into something valuable ” that’s what it’s all about,” Kottenstette said. “The students in here want to be here. They enjoy it.”

Outside the wood shop though, things are a little different than they were 25 years ago, when Kottenstette first started teaching.

Wood shop is one of the few times during a week when the students are removed from the classroom, away from computers, away from the Internet, away from academics, and get to do something with their hands.

Overall, the perceived importance of shop class seems to be fading, Kottenstette says.

He points to the Rifle school district, which lost its shop program years ago. Colleges in Colorado aren’t offering degrees in industrial arts anymore, and it’s been hard to find and keep highly qualified teachers for Eagle County shop classes, Kottenstette said.

Kottenstette hopes schools, which traditionally put the highest priority on college preparation, continue to see the importance of industrial arts, he said.

Shop classes are offered at each of the middle schools and high schools.

“I do think that college is great but it’s not for all of our students, and the trades can open doors to a great life,” Kottenstette said.

And even if the students aren’t planning for a life of construction ” they’re at least getting hands on experience with problem solving, teamwork and craftsmanship.

They learn to take pride in their work, and enjoy making their projects the best they can be.

“I like working with tools,” said eighth grader Tyler Esslinger. “You can have fun with it.”

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or

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