COOS BAY — Some of your future employees, coworkers, or bosses are currently in training with Tom Hull, Marshfield High School’s shop teacher.
No matter what field you’re in, they’ll be an asset.
That’s because the Pirate Shop sends students into the world prepared to succeed.
Marshfield’s Career and Technical Education program isn’t just for mechanical prodigies. It consists of a manufacturing technology program, taught by Hull, a construction program taught by Jesse Ainsworth, a radio program taught by Steve Walker and a computer technology program taught by Fred Hunt.
In the four-year manufacturing technology sequence, “I teach basic mechanical literacy,” Hull said. “Most of my eighth-graders have never touched a tool, unless they grew up on a farm.”
Hull and four volunteers start with the basics of safety and drafting. He progresses to operation of computer-guided tools, project management and experimental design. The sequence includes classroom instruction and shop time.
Hull, who sees 140 students a day, helps students choose projects so that they are constantly learning something new.
“It can be a project, an experiment or a customer project,” he said. “I make sure it matches what that kid needs to learn right now.”
Of course, students who take the classes learn to measure, cut, form, weld and machine. They can make and read mechanical drawings and graphs and choose the best material for a task. Many of them bring home a nice coffee table or other projects.
But they also leave school with experience in solving problems, seeking out information, working as a team, negotiating with suppliers, planning projects and satisfying customers. They also know what it’s like to appreciate one another’s skills and take pride in their own work.
In manufacturing and repair businesses, safety laws prevent even the most motivated teenagers from learning metalworking skills on the job. But in the Pirate Shop, they learn using the same tools they’ll find in the workplace.
More important, they learn how to learn.
One recent afternoon, Hunter Myers showed off some cutouts he’d made in steel and brass using the shop’s computer-guided plasma cutter.
Other students had commissioned him to make the cutouts for their own projects. The designs included brass Navy wings and a silhouette of Kokopelli, the flute-playing Native American deity.
To learn how to program the cutter, Myers consulted fellow student Derek Seevers.
Where did Seevers learn?
“I watched a couple of videos on YouTube,” he said, modestly.
“I’m not really good at explaining, so I showed him by example.”
Some of the cutouts could be seen on handsome metal coffee tables stacked around the shop. Students design and build wooden or metal coffee tables, which are offered for sale.
When a student’s table sells, the money goes into a fund for supplies and materials, and the student gets to build another table to take home.
In the shop, Hull is constantly on the move, lending a hand here and making a suggestion there.
“He’s super cool, he’s really laid-back,” Seevers said. “If you mess something up, he’s pretty understanding.”
“You get to build all sorts of things and meet all sorts of people asking for different jobs,” he said.
Pirate Shop students do occasional projects for local businesses or individuals, but Hull won’t take on just anything. It has to be a project that meets a particular student’s needs.
For example, cutting out a logo for American Bridge let Myers and other students practice making circles with the plasma cutter — a task that taught them to align the cutter perfectly.
The Pirate Shop annually donates beautiful furniture items to auctions benefiting local groups that help youth, such as the Boys and Girls Club, Zonta, Rotary and the Coos Bay Community Foundation.
In return, Hull relies on the community for volunteers.
Bob Schalck has been volunteering in the Pirate Shop since November, after he was laid off at Hardin Optical. He helps students in the machine shop area, teaching them to use precision machines and measuring tools.
“It’s important for the young people to know what industry’s looking for,” he said. “I’m able to use my skills to show them how to do things, what the current industrial standards are.”
Along with machine tool skills, Schalck also tries to convey a logical, confident approach to challenges.
“I give them a grandfatherly direction rather than a fatherly direction,” he said. “I ask them, ‘What’s the worst possible thing that could happen?’ I demonstrate it, and then we go on from there.”
Hull wants to draw the community’s attention to the Pirate Shop’s scholarship fund. It’s one of Marshfield High School’s scholarship funds, with an endowment whose interest provides $1,500 a year in scholarships for one to three students.
You needn’t be a donor to get a subscription to Hull’s quarterly, Quarter Inch Drive. It has a circulation of 1,100 — mostly Pirate Shop alumni, and supporters from the community. Every issue contains tidbits of engineering history, practical shop tips, and suggested reading on various subjects.
You needn’t be an engineer to learn something from each issue — and, often, to get a lump in your throat as you read Hull’s musings on his experiences as a teacher.
Every issue also has “where are they now” updates on the careers of former students.
“My graduates are doing everything from teaching shop themselves to owning their own coffee roasting business to working at a dealership as a mechanic,” Hull said.
To donate to the scholarship fund, email Hull at email@example.com.
Reporter Gail Elber can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 234, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @gailtheworld.