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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 1, 2004 - Issue 112


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Wood Shop Builds School Pride

by Matt Ross Indian Country Today
credits: Learning welding skills on a bicycle frame before moving up to automobiles, Kyle Coffman, 17, smooths out the metal with a buffer. Next year Pyramid Lake High School will have a larger self-contained automobile shop where the students will have the tools and the space to be taught basic car repairs and maintenance. (Photo by Matt Ross)

Learning welding skills on a bicycle frame before moving up to automobiles, Kyle Coffman, 17, smooths out the metal with a buffer. Next year Pyramid Lake High School will have a larger self-contained automobile shop where the students will have the tools and the space to be taught basic car repairs and maintenance. (Photo by Matt Ross)NIXON, Nev. - As the finishing touches were added to the school’s new trophy case in the northern wing, the classrooms adjacent to its location will be undergoing their own makeover in the coming year.

Pyramid Lake High School, on the reservation of the same name, is in the midst of rejuvenating a spirit, both within the institution and in the community. Evident upon walking through the relatively new facility, pride emanates from the students and staff.

Recently a surge in pride was provided by the varsity boys and girls basketball teams that advanced to the final four in their state categories.

Until this semester those plaques earned would have been stored away, often out of public sight, joining others dating back a quarter-century that were collecting dust. Following the dedication ceremony of the trophy case in early March, the school has a highly-visible showpiece for honoring its athletic and academic accomplishments.

"What you will be able to tell your kids 10 years from now is that you were a part of building this," said Chris Clayton, the first year wood shop instructor, as glass shelves were installed.

The driving force behind this endeavor, Clayton brought her energy as a general contractor to Pyramid Lake and treated those involved with the trophy case as crew members, not just students. She said most of the kids in this nine-week project had limited knowledge in industrial arts or how to use the tools before the semester started.

Measuring six feet in height and 21’6" in length, this undertaking gives credence for next year when the students will have the space to create larger projects. Like one-room homes.

Basketball success and the new trophy cases were the noticeable highlights during the late winter months but good things are in store in store next fall for the kids in the technical programs which quietly received financial approval. A $65,000 grant will purchase, install and equip a pre-fabricated self-contained metal classroom measuring 2,000 square feet that will be separate from the school’s main building.

Principal Randy Melendez, who returned to his reservation to run the school, is excited about what this expansion offers. The added space would permit auto body repairs, painting and maintenance that will give his students marketable skills.

"What I want them to learn is basic car repairs, like oil changes, so these kids can get a job right away," he said, noting most jobs are off the reservation in Reno, 45 miles to the south.

Melendez beamed about the opportunities this school offers the reservation since it opened four years ago. The principal noted that within recent memory the school’s enrolment at the old high school dwindled below 20. Besides the aesthetics of a sharp-looking building, the programs offered that started with incentives of athletics and is branching into the academics, has the student population at a vibrant 125 with kids busing in from as far as Reno.

A strong program in the trades is vital to the success of a school on reservation Melendez believes, because for the majority of students post-secondary education is not a strong reality. Also, auto and wood shop, like athletics, are those carrots that stimulate an interest for those who might not otherwise attend school just for academics.

"We’re trying to keep them here because this school is for them. For Indian kids the vocations are important that if they don’t go to college, they can still work or go to trade schools," Melendez said.

In the present metal shop, a decade-old beater covered in epoxy sits beside a torn apart and thoroughly examined engine that’s seen better days. This section of the room, in conjunction with the hydraulic lift, takes up the majority of space where Jim Copeland teaches his classes. In the remaining area, welding tables are filled with bicycle frames that are the continuous projects of students whose goal is to emulate the designer bike hanging from the ceiling.

Within these conditions, Copeland said certain hazards exist that will be eliminated with the new auto shop. Noxious gases, though not lethal or toxic, created by the use of welding tools can pose a problem.

"There’s supposed to be a hood (overhead) to suck the gases out and the side panels will block the (blue powerful) light out from other people," said Copeland.

With the location of the metal shop building, its isolation can also facilitate the use of environmentally-unfriendly products that are associated with automobiles. The disposal of oil and the use of paint products which couldn’t occur in the main building will be easily safeguarded and controlled.

The new metal shop will also create more space inside the school. Once the present auto equipment is moved, an entire room next to the wood shop will be vacant.

This space will house construction sciences and this is where Clayton’s contracting abilities will be fully maximized. Goals include teaching the kids the ability to design, construct and wire a one-room home with plumbing, a challenge the wood shop teacher will relish.

The trophy case, an entertainment unit and other smaller items, have become the building blocks to take on bigger projects. Ultimately, in addition to giving the students at Pyramid Lake job-ready skills, the wood and auto classes provide another venue for self-esteem.

"With all of this, we’re trying to take the mindset of ‘It’s broken, it’s like that forever’ and change that to ‘I can fix it because I’m well-trained,’" Clayton said.

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