- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 29, 2016

GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) - Chance Knighten’s hands are filthy.

They’re caked with black dust as he works his way around a rose, petal after petal. The shirt sleeves of his worn flannel are rolled up to his elbows. With a pair of pliers in his right hand, he twists, turns and shapes the metal flower. Two full blooms lay on the work bench beside him, reported the Gillette News Record (http://bit.ly/28WAX9D).

Knighten’s friend, Cody Bolm, walks over to an enormous armed machine in the welding studio at Gillette College and shows off what he made. It’s a heavy name tag with “CODY” emblazoned in steel, welded to a slab of metal with the Gillette College logo.

Bolm wears a T-shirt and sports blue and purple hair. His face is dirty with the same black dust as the afternoon light hits it through a big garage door.

Knighten is 14 and Bolm is 13. They both are Gillette junior high students taking advantage of GEAR Up Wyoming, a federally funded statewide grant that affects 2,000 eligible middle and high schoolers each year. GEAR Up gives youth the ability to experience and enjoy hands-on workshops that center on activities from creative recycling to Thursday’s class - welding.

“I pitched the welding and creative metal idea to the other members of the program because I thought it would be a good lesson in hands-on work and artistic application,” said Kristin Young, a site coordinator for GEAR Up. “We wanted to expose students to difficult and even untraditional career paths.”

The goal of GEAR Up is to increase the number of eligible students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education by providing academic support, educator training, college prep and family services through each of the seven community colleges in the state.

“It’s mainly a program to show us what colleges can do for us,” Knighten said. “Show us things we can be interested in.”

Both kids admitted to having varying experience with manual labor.

“I always have liked working with my hands,” Knighten said. “I started out by doing things like building fences to working on cars and trucks, so I’ve always been a hands-on person.”

And Bolm?

“Not really,” he said. “The only thing I really do with my hands is .”

“Eat,” Knighten said with a laugh, finishing Blom’s sentence.

“Yeah, I use my hands for eating, using the remote and playing video games,” Bolm said.

Knighten and Bolm are two of eight students who were paired up with welding students at the college.

“This morning we did some welding, took them through that whole process,” Travis Berry said, one of the college student-mentors. “They watched us cut stuff, maneuver the robot and this afternoon, as you can see, we’re building roses.”

Something Berry noted about welding is how beneficial it can be for young people to focus on an art like welding with hard work and determination.

“It’s a hands-on skill and it requires a lot of muscle memory and practice,” Berry said. “Some people just have the raw talent for it. It’s work. It’s fun, challenging and they all seem to enjoy it.”

The whole time Knighten talks, he raises his head and makes eye contact only a few times. The rest of the time he stares down at the silver rose, pulling and twisting. Bolm wipes his hands together and then runs a hand through his hair, black dust mixes in with the hair dye.

“Yeah, this has definitely been one of our favorites because of how hands-on it’s been,” Bolm said.

He said he can envision himself with a hands-on job down the line - after he ditches the video games.

“I’ve always thought about being a mechanic,” Bolm said. “It would be fun to work with my dad.”

“It’s a great skill to have, working with your hands,” Knighten added. “I could see it as a job later on in life. It’d be nice to have. If anything, it’s just fun to create things.”

He pulls the last petal up, a hardened rose. Thorns not included.

___

Information from: The Gillette (Wyo.) News Record, http://www.gillettenewsrecord.com

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