SAMS timber framing participants with their instructor

Sir Alexander Mackenzie School of self directed learning takes on timber framing project

Sir Alexander Mackenzie School of self directed learning takes on timber framing project

The new direction that the Ministry of Education wants school districts to take is being called ‘21st Century or Personalized Learning.’ This new initiative has a greater focus on hands on learning, skills training and learning at your own pace. Although new to the Ministry, this notion is not new to School District 49.

What began over a decade ago with the Carving Program within SAMS has now expanded to include four off-site trades programs: Timber Frame Building, Mechanics/Welding, Welding and Cabinetry/Woodworking.

The programs are overseen by teacher, Dan Watts at SAMS and registration is done through the school itself.  The programs are similar in their approach with all but the Timber Frame program offering a few days a week off-site working on a trade and a few days in the classroom working on a graduation program.

These programs are successful because of the hard work and vision of several people past and present: Dan Watts (teacher), the Board of Education (past and present), Denise Perry and Norma Hart (past and current superintendent), John Webster and Jeremy Baillie (past and current principal of SAMS), and the four patient and hardworking tradesmen handling the day-to-day of each program – Thor DiGuistini, Tim DiGuistini, Russell Casperson and Rod Price.

The first of the trades programs to be developed was the Mechanics/Welding Program. Almost a decade later it is still going with the direction of teacher Dan Watts and tradesmen Thor DiGuistini.  The program is a mix of adult and senior students.

In this program and the others there is certainly a wish to expand it to make it available to more students but unfortunately insurance costs and supervision regulations require the numbers to be kept low.  The majority of the students in the Mechanics and Welding Program attend the job-site two days a week and are in classes working on courses that lead to graduation the other three days a week.

The Timber Frame Program came into being approximately six years ago and has several tangible projects within the community to look back upon with pride.   The students learn the traditional way of building a timber frame structure under the guidance of tradesmen Rod Price.   To date the program has completed several projects including four shops and the beautiful Healthy Beginnings building in 2010. Students in the Timber Frame Program tend to be adult learners learning valuable employment skills that take them on to working with others in the industry.

Similar to the Mechanics/Welding program is the Cabinetry/Woodworking Program over seen by tradesperson Tim DiGuistini.  Students in the program again are a mix of adult and senior student learners. The program is housed in what was the old Forestry Building. The students learn woodworking skills two days a week and then again are working on courses leading to graduation back at SAMS the other three days a week.

Everyone has to start some place, and students who express an interest in the trades often start by practicing their welding skills with Russell Casperson.  The program is meant to be only an introduction to welding and is quite small but it gives students a taste to see if their interest is in pursuing the trades further.

Many wonder why these programs cannot be offered on site at the school thus making them available to more students. In truth it’s a complicated story of insurance, funding, student population size, and staffing. However, the District is committed to offering the trades on-site if and when the SAMS is replaced with a new school.

Whenever visiting educational VIPs are present such as the Superintendent of Achievement or the President of the BC Principals/Vice-Principals Association they are taken on a tour of the off-site trade programs and are continually in awe of the uniqueness and ingenuity of the programs. This kind of partnership between the school and the community is only possible because of the hard work of those mentioned above and because of the spirit that exists within the community to be flexible and ingenious in finding ways to cooperate.

In the meantime, the student and adult learners of the valley are in excellent hands within these programs.