A new trades lab at Cold Lake Middle School is giving local students a hands-on opportunity to learn about construction and other skilled trades.
Students in Grades 5 to 12 are taking turns in the new workshop, which was built in a large storage room in the back of the school.
Work benches, a variety of saws, sanders and other tools fill the spacious room and allow teacher Raymond Froud to offer custom programming to his students.
“We focus on individual projects starting out. I let them choose the project,” said Froud, who works with high school students from Bonnyville and Cold Lake Outreach Schools each morning.
One of those students is Cold Lake's Nicolas Beley, who has seen his career path affected by his time in the lab.
“I have always wanted to build houses,” said Beley. “I enjoy carpentry because I love working with my hands. This program has given me the opportunity to work with mentors and help me improve my skills.
Beley has been working in the trades lab since it opened in September, and already has his sights set on a career in carpentry thanks to the influence of Froud and the trades program.
“I feel like this is going to be a stepping stone towards my career,” said Beley. “I encourage others to become a part of the program.”
Officials at Northern Lights School Division are able to offer this new trades exposure program to students thanks to a large grant they received from Merit Contractors Association.
Merit is an association that provides training and benefits for contractors. They have 1,450 member companies with over 60,000 employees, some of which are located in the Bonnyville/ Cold Lake region.
NLSD was awarded $400,000 in grant funding, which will be provided over two years, to help begin and develop a trades program at CLMS.
“The construction shop at Cold Lake Middle School was mainly a storage room, now it's a place that provides opportunity for students to learn, build and develop skills that will be valuable down the road, not only for them as individuals, but for the local economy.”
The potential benefit to the local economy is exactly what spurred Merit Contractors Association to get involved with NLSD and create the local trades program.
“Our board decided that we wanted to try and make a difference in the schools to try and change public opinion around trades,” said Line Porfon, Government Relations lead with Merit. “Our members really wanted us to focus on the grass routes.”
Porfon used this mandate and criteria to decide how to dish out the $1.2 million the non-profit organization had earmarked for educational grants. She received program pitches from 40 school boards across the province, eventually splitting the money amongst seven of them.
NLSD's pitch stood out to Porfon due to the fact that it broke the “silos” between the schools, offered collaboration and allowed both middle school and high school students to benefit from the creation of a new lab.
“The entire package that Northern Lights gave us was innovative, sustainable and it had huge leadership potential within it,” said Porfon. “It was so outside the box it made absolute sense for us to fund it.”
While high school students can be seen hard at work in the workshop during the morning hours, the middle school students take over the space in the afternoons.
Froud works with Grade 5 to 8 students in the workshop teaching them how to operate the basic construction tools.
“They use the basic tools in the shop and they slowly progress up to the more advanced tools, such as the band saw,” said Froud. “By Grade 8 I'll get them using the miter saw and the table saw. By the time they get to high school they are using everything with supervision.”
Currently students are working on individual projects, design and constructed with the help of Froud. In the new year the students are planning to collaborate and build several larger projects, such as a play house, and a shed.