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Kickstart to Careers: Carpentry

Tioga High School’s carpentry class has students prepared for career in the industry.
Published: Jan. 18, 2021 at 4:43 PM CST
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TIOGA, La. (KALB) - All this week Rachael Penton and photojournalist Ben Gauthier are spotlighting ways high school students can “Kickstart their Careers”.

We start with Tioga High School’s expansive Career and Technical Education program. Most schools in Cenla have one, but Tioga’s continues rapidly expanding. The program gives students multiple pathways to earn certifications that will get them a paycheck right after graduation, or a jumpstart on what they’ll study after high school. One of the courses offered is carpentry. According to the U.S. News and World Report, a carpenter is the 18th highest paying non-college job in the country with a median salary of just over 46,000 dollars.

In the carpentry classroom at Tioga, you can hear the sound of sawing, drilling, and sanding.

“They get down here and they don’t want to leave. I’ve got some kids who, that’s why they want to come to school,” says carpentry instructor Debbie McFarland.

Carpentry is part of the ag-tech program, where the students take their projects from ideas to reality.

“You get equipped with the tools and learn how to like put together your idea and it’s awesome to go from an idea to an actual product,” says student Christian Dufour.

Senior Julie Dawson is putting polyurethane on a table today.

“It’s just led to really great things in my life and it’s changed me as a person specifically. I’ve found that this is probably one of the greatest classes I’ve taken,” she says.

Classmate Steven Trahan is building a ladder to hang Christmas stockings.

“I was like why not what’s the worst that can happen? I signed up and as soon as I came to the shop it was like, that was it. That’s all it took.”

Dufour is making a cornhole and washer board set.

“Later on in life if there’s something that I can’t really find or something that I want custom made, like a shelf or something for my house, I can build it myself.”

Student Caiden Ellis is building a toy box for the second time, improving upon his design from the first try.

“First you have to take either a one by twelve or one by six, whatever kind of scrap wood you can find and you have to rip it into two-inch pieces.”

Carpentry students complete woodworking projects at Tioga High School.
Carpentry students complete woodworking projects at Tioga High School.(KALB)

“That’s what makes me get excited and like my job. When I see these kids light up about these projects they send out here,” McFarland said.

The students learn to use the machinery that would be required for a career in carpentry.

“We use machinery. We use jigsaws. We use bandsaws, table saws. They use miter saws, sanders. I mean that’s the point for them to learn these skills and go out into the workforce with this machinery,” says McFarland.

McFarland says the students are building projects for real customers.

“If it’s not done right, they get really mad at me because I make them take it apart. If we’re building something for somebody it doesn’t go out of here halfway done.”

At the end of the class, students have the option to earn an ag-tech or carpentry certification, putting them a step closer to entering the workforce after graduation.

“That’s the way we want them when they leave Tioga High School, to be able to say hey I need this done and when they go on a job site or go to apply for a job and they say hey can you do this? Yes. Give it to me and I’ll do it. So that’s what we’re trying to do for our students,” says McFarland.

Even if they don’t choose carpentry as a career path, just like a college degree, the knowledge they’re learning here will stick them for a lifetime.

“It’s good to have as a background. It’s not what I wanted to do as a career but if the opportunity rises I would take it,” adds Trahan.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an eight percent employment growth for carpenters through 2028, with an estimated 80 thousand jobs opening up.

Tioga High School is hosting an open house on Thursday from 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. Current students will be able to learn more about the programs offered and plan their schedules. Prospective students interested in open enrollment can visit as well. The school is also inviting the public out to see what the students are working on.

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