Shop class retooled for future at O'Connell High

By: Jill Tucker, Chronicle Staff Writer

O'Connell High School's Gus Amador (left) offers advice to
Lucerito Martinez as carpentry students work together to
rough-frame a stage being built for the industrial arts
building's unveiling today.
San Francisco school officials are to unveil a $1.1 million barn-like industrial space on the John O'Connell High School campus today, a mark of the district's revitalized effort to bring back old-school shop classes with 21st century twists.

The new building, the first solar-powered site in the city's school district, will hold the power tools for traditional carpentry classes immediately, but have the flexibility to accommodate high-tech courses like robotics or aeronautics at some point down the line, said David Goldin, district chief facilities officer.
It's big enough that students could wheel in a small airplane and take it apart, Goldin said.

The space at the Mission neighborhood school offers students the hands-on, career-focused learning of decades past, while including enough math and other academics to satisfy the requirements of a college-prep curriculum.

This is definitely not your father's woodshop class. In a sense, the new building and the program inside combine old-school vocational education with college track rigor, a rejection of the either-or model of generations past.

Variety of skills

Students will be expected to learn the basics - everything from hammering a nail to using a tape measure - as well as advanced skills like creating blueprints and building plans. For example, they will make a playhouse to the same specifications of a real house - only smaller.

"The skills that make you successful in college are the same skills that make you successful in careers," said Deputy Superintendent Richard Carranza.

The new building, funded by developer fees, will allow an expansion of the school's carpentry classes, which were restarted in 2008 after years of being on hiatus.

Classes are expected to begin in the building sometime in January, moving from a cramped classroom where saws share space with desks and where there's only enough room for about 15 students because of safety concerns, said teacher Guy Amador.

"The kids are knocking down my door to get into my classes," said Amador, who is looking forward to the move.

"I want them to go home with all their fingers," he said.

Shop classes were largely phased out over the last couple of decades as schools focused on pushing all students toward college rather than the frowned-upon tracking of some kids into skilled labor.
But in recent years, educators have pushed back, realizing that vocational-focused classes have always served a sector of students that won't go to college, giving them insight and experience into lucrative careers.