Woodwork shop puts Raa Middle School students on career path

Alvin Washington puts the finishing sanding touch on a chair that will be sold by Raa Middle School students.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine
Brandi Faison runs the woodwork shop at Raa Middle School.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

When Brandi Faison says her woodwork class at Raa Middle School is a “real life scenario,” she can prove it.

Students in the class begin with the basics like learning to read a ruler and by the time they’ve completed the course they would have learned how to frame a house and built several models.

Completing the class also means earning a Home Builders Institute certificate. 

The program also checks out as the first and only one of its kind for a middle school in Leon County. Up until recently when a similar program started at an Escambia County middle school, Raa was the only one in the Bid Bend.

Industrial arts, as woodwork shops are known traditionally, are being promoted by the Home Builders Institute. However, vocational tech has been taught at Raa for more than three decades.

Many of her students see the class as an opportunity to get a jump start on a potential career, Faison said.

“A lot of our kids can make a lot more money with a vocational training even though it requires an education background,” she said. “This is giving our students opportunities that a lot of the counties in our state aren’t giving.

“It’s a real life scenario of how to run a business, take care of yourself and how everything across campus runs together.”

Students pay a $15 shop fee, which covers the cost of a protective face shield and contributes minimally to the purchase of lumber. An even bigger source of the program’s funding comes from donations and money they raise from the sale of tables and chairs that they produce in the class.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission also keeps the students busy with the construction of wood duck nesting boxes. The Commission adds GPS markers to monitor the wood ducks population.

That is one of the hands-on projects that motivates eighth-grader Chris Cruz, who said he sees an even bigger picture.

“This class teaches more in terms of how to get jobs; how to work on different jobsites and fields other than building,” he said. “We also learn about math and science in here.”

Cruz was one of the students in the district who elected to take hybrid classes when the coronavirus struck last year. After nine weeks, he decided the on-line experience wasn’t the same as taking shop in person.

“It’s like a whole new experience working with the teacher,” he said. “I learn so much about how to protect myself when I’m using this equipment. It’s also fun working on projects with my friends.”

Many of the alums have gone on to careers in construction. The list includes Rudy Rowe, owner of Rowe Roofing.

He was one of the Raa students who took advantage of the feeder system set up with Leon High School. Current eighth-grader Cynthia Conte plans to continue developing her woodworking skills at Leon.

Conte is one of a few students who started taking shop classes as a sixth-grader.

“It’s getting to interact with new projects every time I come in here, whether it’s building chairs, cabinets or whatever,” she said. “It’s just fun learning something new.

“I come here every day and I love building. I put my heart into it.”

Principal Marcus Scott believes there are many more future business owners that will come through the program.

“This gives them the confidence that they don’t have to be on the streets doing something they don’t need to be doing,” Scott said. “But they’ve got skills that will not only help them to make money for the summer but they could actually become entrepreneurs.

“These kids are coming here knowing that they get to work with the same equipment they see their dad working with, they see their mom working with. They see these buildings going up in Tallahassee and now they understand.”


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