Mr. Rick Hopp, Hope Hall’s Career Development and Woodworking Teacher, smiles when he talks about how he first got started in woodworking.
He was about 10 years old when he snuck into his father’s woodworking shop to start building a boat, unbeknownst to his dad. When his father caught drift of what the boy was up to, he took his son and the boat out to Mendon Ponds, where the young Rick Hopp climbed aboard. As swiftly as the boat set sail, it sank.
The elder Mr. Hopp took his son and the boat back home, showed him how to seal the seams of the boat, and the rest—including Rick Hopp’s love for woodworking—is history.
Today, Mr. Hopp shares his expertise with Hope Hall’s students to help prepare them for life beyond high school. The woodworking program’s project-based learning teaches them a variety of skills including planning, drawing, measuring, creation of mechanical drawings for the project parts, and importantly, the use of portable power tools and woodworking machinery.
While he and his team, which includes Ms. Anne DeMare and Mr. Adam Jay, sometime work with younger students in class and in an after-school program, the woodworking program’s primary focus is on 10th through 12th grade students, for whom the woodworking course is credit-bearing, and required for graduation.
In each grade, the students work on different projects designed to build on the skills of their prior projects, in a systematic, step-by-step manner. So for example, the small shelf they learn to build in 10th grade may lead to a shaker bench, a shaker table, a dressing mirror, or an arch door cabinet in the 11th grade. During their senior year, they graduate to making a curved leg end table, an Adirondack chair, or a rocking chair. Throughout their three-year journey, the students also get an introduction to house construction by building scale-size replica houses.
The program provides great motivation, because each student gets to take his or her creations home. The focus needed to go from measurement to mechanical drawings, and from construction to finalization of the piece helps build focus, increases students’ tolerance for work, and they become accustomed to an environment in which projects often last for extended periods of time. It also teaches students how to deal with constructive criticism.
“The systematic nature of this program really works to help build confidence,” shared Mr. Hopp.
He went on to explain how the woodworking program applies curriculum from other courses, including measurement, and various aspects of math and science. The presentations that are required, in which the students explain how they’ve built their projects, help to build oral presentation skills that contribute to success with interviews.
As students complete one project and move on to the next, their level of self-assurance grows, which is essential in the workplace, as well as in a higher-level academic environment to which many Hope Hall students proceed.