For many of us, hearing the word “woodshop” reminds us of Bob Vila or a Saturday afternoon episode of This Old House. Unless we grew up with band saws and lathes, the idea of operating power tools is outside of our comfort zones, and the thought of passing a slab of Walnut across a table saw is downright disconcerting.
But for the students in Allendale’s woodshop class, these tools are merely the means to an end — and a beautiful one at that.
Mark Vizithum, known by his students simply as “Mr. V,” has been teaching at AHS for six years. Mr. Vizithum loves teaching word working not only for the practical applications is has now but for the possibilities it opens up in the future.
“The whole goal of this class is to help kids make money or save money by being able to make their own furniture. If our students want to get into wood working as a profession, they can. And if they want to get into another hands-on trade, this provides a good foundation for many of those skills, too.”
Students work on a variety of projects in class ranging from cabinets, bed frames, gun cabinets, bookshelves, desks and even a futon! Mr. Vizithum reasons that “They’re all going to become homeowners some day and they’ll have to fix things. This class will help them save money down the road.”
The woodshop classes offered at Allendale High School are two trimesters long and are available at beginning and advanced levels. With 20-25 students in each class on average, only about 5-10% are girls. Ironically, however, Mr. Vizithum said that girls generally do excellent work because they pay attention to small details. “Boys are typically all about quantity and the girls are more about quality.”
Woodshop students also learn the value of a dollar by paying for all the materials they use. This is a great tradeoff, however, as students are able to keep what they make and do whatever they wish with their creations once they finish. Some students even consider selling their work as a way to earn extra income and recoup their expenses.
Sebastian Domin is an Allendale senior who was staining a TV cabinet during our visit. Sebastian chose to take woodshop because he enjoys building things and has already learned a lot, including the proper way to measure, use CAD and how to make plans on the computer. He plans to go into heating and cooling after graduation, saying “all the skills I’m learning here will help me in the future.”
Sophomore Colten Niergarth chose woodshop for a different reason: he wanted a hands-on class and this was a great fit. He proudly shared that he has learned the basics of woodworking, like cutting on the band saw and tackling the technical aspects of a project. But more importantly, Colten said that Mr. V has taught him “to work hard and be committed to getting projects done.”
This idea of hard work and tenacity is a tenet of this class and something Mr. V clearly champions. The idea that it is admirable to stick to your word and finish what you start is taught regardless of whether a student is building a bed frame or kitchen table.
“These kids are learning work ethic. Everybody’s staying busy — I don’t have to tell them to get on task because they’re learning how to work. That’s a valuable asset to have.”