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Turning shop class into Santa’s workshop

Friday, December 21st, 2012 | Posted by

Sophomore Ryan Clifton sands the edges of his triceratops using a palm sander.

By ANDREA GRANAHAN / West County Correspondent

PHOTOS By JOHN BURGESS / The Press Democrat

Thanks to some enthusiastic young people and two dedicated wood shop teachers, a lot of kids will be happier this Christmas.

For the past four years Joe Maloney, Analy High School’s shop teacher, and Jon Novak, El Molino High School’s shop teacher, have turned their shop classrooms into Santa’s workshops. Their students create wooden puzzles for underprivileged children.

In Analy’s 3,000-square-foot wood shop, we managed to capture the attention of Joe Maloney in between handing out various grits of sandpaper, advision students about tools and being interrupted by students seeking guidance on how to transfer patterns.

Tell us about the toys.

We have two objectives: to motivate the students to produce a quality toy they themselves would have appreciated when they were children, and to donate handmade toys to an under-served part of our community.

The kids make teaching puzzles, some individual, some large for child care centers. We also make some board games, like chess board and sets, swivel heart-shaped boxes, some turned wooden oil lamps and some birdhouses.

They have to be well made, and we use a nontoxic finish.

What do the kids learn from this?

To make a quality puzzle, a student will use four to six machines. For example, a student making a doweled pear puzzle has to use a scroll saw, band saw, electric sander, drill press and router table. They have to learn the process of sanding in layers, from rough to fine.

We also involve them in the donation process, helping them understand community needs. It’s part of our classroom curriculum, and we have the kids deliver the toys to the donations points.

Teacher Joe Maloney gives advice to freshman Dante Carrasco while freshman Aidan Vermeulen sands the edges of his puzzle.

Where will the toys go?

We give them to Toys for Tots local donation sites, such as the Sebastopol Fire Station; to the St. Nick Project out of the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Santa Rosa; and the Project Angel Tree, which has outlets in several churches.

How many kids are involved?

I have 150 kids making toys, and Jon Novak has about 100 kids at El Mo.

How long does it take for the kids to master the tools and produce a good toy?

It takes about six periods to make a simple puzzle. They quickly learn how much work it takes. A chess board can take three weeks.

Where do you get the wood for this?

The wood is donated. We have a lot of wonderful donors including Meade Clark, Friedman Brothers, Mt. Storm, Burgess.

How did you get involved?

I was a general contractor. I had four children who graduated from Analy High. I was always impressed with the school, and with how much time the teachers gave their students. My son in college now says his math in college is easier than his math classes at Analy.

I used to coach football and taught biology. Then the shop teacher passed on four years ago, and I took it on.

What’s your biggest challenge?

Supervising so many students. Volunteers are a huge help, and we welcome them here. Oh, and getting the students to pick up after themselves. (This produced laughter from all the students within earshot.)

Do you have any girl students?

I usually have one to eight per class. I love my girl students. As a rule they are more detail oriented, so they turn out a quality product, which motivates the boys to do better.

When it’s not the holiday season, what do your students do?

The kids actually work on their school, among other things. They do some maintenance, repairing. They built a retaining wall for the school vineyard, they demolished and rebuilt our sports stands, have done some siding. They learn to use planers and joiners.

I think it is very important for schools to continue to provide education in the trades. Many employers are looking for a work force that has experience with tools and has learned how to work with them.

Not to mention have learned to appreciate their community enough to donate time and energy to it.

Writer Spotlight

Andrea Granahan is our West County correspondent.
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