- Associated Press - Thursday, November 3, 2016

OAKLAND, Ill. (AP) - British teacher Jon Welch has helped the Oakland school district rebuild its industrial arts program this fall after the program was on hiatus last year.

Students in the industrial arts classes are now working on hands-on projects ranging from building birdhouses to constructing scaled-down modular home sections.

“It’s good, practical experience for our students,” said Oakland Superintendent Lance Landeck.

Oakland’s new industrial arts teacher first visited the United States in the late 1970s while learning about timber frame construction for his bachelor’s in construction. Welch said he was employed by a company in Paris, Ill., during this time frame and established long-lasting friendships in the area.

Welch said he subsequently worked for more than 20 years in product testing and certification, specializing in fire suppression systems. After his employer closed, Welch ran his own kitchen installation service for a couple of years and then went back to school to become an industrial arts teacher.

Welch said he taught at schools in Great Britain for 10 years and then moved to Illinois a few years ago after marrying an area resident, Dawn Welch, who is a case manager at Paris Community Hospital. Welch said he taught in Barry in Western Illinois for a time and then applied for the post in Oakland.

The district put its industrial arts program on hiatus after the previous teacher resigned just before the start of the 2015-16 school year. Landeck said there is an industrial arts teacher shortage in Illinois, so the district had worried about finding a qualified teacher to relaunch the program for 2016-17.

“We were really fortunate to get a teacher with his experience and classroom skills,” Landeck said.

The new teacher said he has felt at home in small-town Oakland. Welch said he lived for many years in Ayot St. Lawrence, a village of approximately 100 residents in rural southern England. Welch said he has enjoyed having the opportunity to build an industrial arts program “from scratch” in Oakland.

“It’s challenging but rewarding. I feel very privileged to be here,” Welch said. He added that the district has a great management team, an excellent facility in the Lake Crest School building, and cutting edge equipment for computer-aided design.

One of the first projects that Welch and his students tackled this fall was disassembling a large wood-frame storage rack that had filled much of the floor space in the workshop.

Welch said they are using much of the wood from the rack to build scaled-down modular home sections that simulate bathrooms and kitchens. He said the students will get experience with construction, wiring, plumbing, flooring, insulation, drywall, painting, counter tops, tiles, and more with this project.

The sections are designed in a way that they can be demolished by future students so that the components can be reassembled for new projects.

Industrial arts student Clint VonBehrens, who is a senior, said he has enjoyed learning how to build walls, frame windows, install counter tops, and gaining other real-world skills as part of this class project.

“We have never gotten to do all of this stuff before,” VonBehrens said.

Welch said he plans to get his students involved in community service projects next spring. Welch said he also hopes to eventually obtain vacuum form equipment for molding plastics in the workshop, build mini houses as a class project, and offer a dual college credit course in industrial arts at Oakland.

Much of the Oakland students’ projects this fall have been made possible with construction materials donated by the community.

Welch said his “wish list” for donated construction materials includes workshop equipment, plastic and copper plumbing, metal stud systems for walls, ceramic tiles, and electric cables and receptacles.

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Source: (Decatur) Herald & Review, http://bit.ly/2ep8dKw

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Information from: Herald & Review, http://www.herald-review.com

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