The Cutting Edge

Woodshop at M-A

For the past 28 years, Mark Leeper has taught woodshop at M-A.

"I think the biggest [benefit of woodshop] is learning in a different kind of environment, learning with your hands as opposed to learning with your ears or learning with your eyes, or speaking, even. I think it's a rare opportunity for students [...] just getting exposed to working with their hands and coming up with a tangible product."

M-A's woodshop class provides students with opportunities to craft handmade wood products in a uniquely interactive environment. Shop teacher Mark Leeper believes this type of learning enables students to grow dynamically, beyond the conventional confines of the classroom.

According to Forbes Magazine, "without early exposure to shop class many kids are going to lose out on the opportunity to discover whether or not they like making things, and the inclination to pursue a career as a drafter, carpenter, welder or auto mechanic. Statistically speaking there is a greater chance that a kid will become employed as a tradesperson than ever becoming a professional sports player." 

"[Woodshop teaches you skills] like how to persevere when you are struggling, like when you make a mistake, how to fix it, how to work on a part of a project that isn't that interesting, how to follow through until you're done and produce the best quality product you can."-Leeper

How are skills from woodshop applicable to life after school?

"It's good to have a background working with your hands, no matter what you do. And even if you choose not to continue, at least you have the experience so you can appreciate the fact that other people do it."

"As [students] progress, usually later in the first year and into the second year, they get to be more creative in designing, so if I want them to build a table, they get the choice, they can use a set of plans that I have already or that they find, or they can use that as a starting point to develop ideas."

How can students express their creativity through woodshop?

"I think one of the problems with creativity is that we have such a limited amount of time. Developing a solid enough plan that can be dealt with is really difficult to do in the hour or two hours that we have in a day."

"Maybe [woodshop] leads to a career, whether it's in trades or in engineering, or construction or architecture, and I think it's good background in support and knowledge for some of those careers [...] to have hands-on skills because you are going to have to use them in college and a lot of people don't have that."

Has there been a recent change in the students who take woodshop?

"Over the last couple of years, many fewer 'college prep' kinds of students have taken the class. There's still some there, but not as many as there were before. There were about four or five years where a really broad spectrum of students from the highest achievers to the most struggling took the class, more girls were involved, but that's kind of trailed off the last couple years."

"I think if you're doing something and you feel happy and centered, I think you've found success, no matter what that is. It could be any kind of location or hobby, but if you find that place where time goes by and you don't realize, that's success to me."

Do you think people need to go to a four-year college in order to achieve success?

"As a society, we need people to pursue all kinds of things to function, and I think the unfortunate part is that [paths other than] college are looked down upon, which is a shame. If you look around at all the beautiful buildings, it takes skilled craft people to build them, it takes people who may or may not have a college education."

"I think really it's finding what you're passionate about and pursuing it and I think then the pieces fall into place."

Watch Leeper speak to the Kiwanis club at the Allied Arts Center on March 8 from 12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. about the importance of shop classes for high school students. Click the link to find out more information about the Kiwanis Club.