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Elliot's Blog 4/18/2018

From El – Are you with me now? AJ Ryder

Travels with Charlie Juju  4/18/2018


On Wednesday Charlie and I went up to Colfax High School near Lake Tahoe to pay a visit to Jonathan Schwartz and his students. Last year, Jonathan was one of the winners of the Harbor Freight Tools for School Prize for Teaching Excellence. Jonathan is an incredible teacher who combines grades 9-12 in math and woodworking all at the same time. Yep. Four different math courses and all sorts of stages woodworking and fabrication all integrated at the same time. His physical layout is very intentional and serves to interconnect the practical and the theoretical.  It was fascinating to watch. We were joined by Jonathan’s principal Paul Lundberg and the new principal of our school in this district Rob Hitchcock. What a surprise for me to find out that we already were developing a BPL school in the same town. We had great conversations with students and staff. The most impressive thing was the students doing their work around the woodshop. The articulation and their know-how made some beautiful products but most importantly they’re not-know-how and figuring out the not-know-how by trial and error, peer to peer and 1:1  time with Jonathan was great to see.


One of the bridging activities between math and the trades of woodshop, drafting and advanced manufacturing was building a model house that could withstand the pressure of the weight and force without collapsing. Interestingly enough, Jonathan mentioned on these types of problems, it is the students who are the builders/carpentry students that outshine the more academically minded and socio-economically advantaged students. It happens almost every time. We had an interesting discussion about what is lost and what is gained when life is more relegated to abstraction, text and digitization at the expense of the practical.  It was one of our other older fellows at Laney College, who spent years in finance and then, started furniture making that said, he had to learn how to work through things in an entirely different way and change how he was thinking. It was difficult and very rewarding.


Just one more thing:  Jonathan ran and still runs a business and connects his students to the world outside of school to work. He also  wants to connect people of the community doing this work back to working in the school’s shop. The conversations with Jonathan’s students about what is going on outside of school for them while back inside the school were some of the most engaging and insightful for us all.


Next, we went back to Yolo County Office of Education where we met Pascal Marquez and Manolo Jaurequi at their new facility designed for a school that has their mechanics and fabrication business as the main floor. It is not off to the side, not down in the basement but the main floor. What does that say? This space is amazing but more importantly, these two men are amazing; Manolo was Pascal’s student many years ago and Pascal remains his mentor. They ran a business and non-profit in the Woodland/Sacramento area developing young mechanics and fabricators through their work. Now the County Office partnered with them in this beautiful new place that we allow their students talents, brilliance and creativity to shine through instead of being marginalized.


We were there to meet one of our newest Harbor Freight Fellows, a young woman named Dayana Anaya. This time we all sat around and talked about the business of restoring the vintage cars on the floor. Some of these cars when complete will go for upwards of $250,000 to $1 million dollars. When we walked in Pascal was working on a ’71 Barracuda that will be tricked out with a 1600 horsepower engine. These cars are wild. This is an entire real deal maker space world unto itself with tools,  shows, conferences, associations and certifications. And guess what, there is a gigantic shortage of workers. The students going to this school will be in high demand for a very long time. This industry is driven by the Baby Boomers. They can’t get enough of these cars. To them, it is like buying a custom house. In this industry the stakes are high and you have to be problem-solving all the time.  There is always something new in the old. There is always something going wrong and always things that need to be corrected and this is what keeps you engaged. What course of sitting in rows and not knowing why you are there can compare to this?


These real maker spaces of Jonathan’s and Pascal’s and Manolo’s are where the collective effervescence kicks in and starts to transcend race, class and gender. It is about doing something you love to do and finding people who love to do the same thing.


What a week for me!