Not Just a Filler Elective

Students fill the FHC wood shop daily, not only to earn a VPAA credit, but to learn problem solving skills necessary for the real world.


Jake Standerfer, Staff Writer

Shaking his head in disbelief, sophomore Matt Palmisano notices that two pieces of his cutting board have risen unevenly as he tightens clamps down on his project. He will have to re-glue the cutting board, practically starting from the beginning.

“I thought that [making the cutting board] was really irritating because I had to redo the glue about seven times, but it was much more rewarding when I completed it because of what I had to go through,” Palmisano said. “[The struggle] was worth it in the end.”

Palmisano is enrolled in bench woods, one of the two woodworking classes available at FHC. Bench woods and advanced woodworking are both taught by Rob Miedema in the woodshop.

“Bench woods [is] a semester course that anybody can take,” Miedema said. “It’s a VPAA credit, and we do some smaller projects in there to get familiar with the tools and materials [in the woodshop].”

According to Miedema, upon the completion of bench woods one can enroll in advanced woodworking. Advanced woodworking is a class centered around creating original projects..

“The first year students have to make an end table… with a lot of the nice hard wood,” Miedema said.” They can choose whatever project they want after the table is done, so I’ve got a couple of guys, one is making skies, another is finishing a snowboard from last year, two others are working on starting skies, and I got a couple people working on cutting boards.”

The learning in both classes centers upon the skills of working with wood and turning wood into a finished project, but at the core of the class, important problem solving skills are taught.

“The highest core of what they’re learning is that they’re problem solving everyday,” Miedema said. “We’re using wood as a medium to teach problem solving and critical thinking in a very hands on way.”

Students such as senior Connor Kuhlmann are developing these skills every day through the woodshop courses at FHC.

“I made plaques for the soccer team as a gift from me to the players,” Kuhlmann said. “Basically, I glued some pieces of wood together and plained them so they were even, then put them up on a CNC router where I made a design and [the router] cut it out for me.”

Kuhlmann has a history of successful projects, including the completion of a wooden kayak, but that does not mean the lessons of woodshop apply to him more than Palmisano, a first year bench woods student.

“I related [my failures] to flappy bird, when you’re close to a new record and you fail one point behind your old record, it felt like that,” Palmisano said. “After that, I just gave up, and I’d sit in my seat all day and just chat instead of working. I was really upset to the point where I didn’t want to try anymore.”

Miedema caught Palmisano slacking off and talking in class one day and gave him direct help. “The whole project seemed a lot easier [after the help],” Palmisano said. “I realized I was overdramatizing it. After that, I kept at it and completed the project.”

Palmisano cut his board into the shape of Wisconsin following this, and he thought it paid off very well. He thinks he may have made one of the best cutting boards thanks to Miedema.

“What I try to push the most is helping the kids find their own solutions,” Miedema said, “and guiding them through that.  I think woodshop is very relevant today for these reasons. In any career you’re going to run into problems, so you’ve gotta learn to fix them while you can, there’s gotta be a solution.”