American Woodworker

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Winter 2013-2014

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High School Woodshop Enrollment Quadruples


High School Woodshop Enrollment Quadruples

Edited by Tim Johnson

Prescott, Arizona is loaded with young men and women excited about woodworking, thanks to woodshop instructor Tom Bockman. While high school woodworking programs have been under siege nationwide in recent years, enrollment in Prescott High School’s woodshop program has quadrupled, requiring the addition of new classes and a second teacher.

There’s more. Tom’s students are respected at school and throughout the city. Woodshop students develop conceptual and business skills. They learn the value of teamwork and experience the satisfaction of community service involvement. When we talked, Tom eagerly shared his teaching strategies.


You’ve been teaching for 28 years. What was it like when you started?

I was blissfully unaware of what I was getting into. Woodworking was popular, so it wasn't hard to attract students. But when Arizona authorized charter schools, about a dozen small, alternative high schools quickly appeared in town. To keep my classes filled, I had to learn how to successfully compete for students.


How do you explain your program’s amazing success?

Good publicity has been one of the most valuable tools for strengthening our program. Parent and student interest spikes whenever woodshop activities are spotlighted, so when my students do great things, I make sure they get noticed. Over the years, our program has benefited from dozens of local newspaper articles. We’ve even been featured in magazines and on television.


How do other faculty members view your woodshop program?

Positively. I make every effort to connect woodworking with academics, because I’m convinced that woodworking helps my students learn how to think. Studies show that hands-on experience makes it easier for many students to understand abstract concepts. For example, using a try square to draw a 3-4-5 triangle helps to illustrate the Pythagorean theorem.

Earlier this year, mathematics students studying probability visited the woodshop to make spinners, like the one used in a Bingo game. Woodshop students used lasers to produce parts for the math students to assemble. During the activity many math students told me “this is cool!”

Why do you promote student involvement in community service projects?

Involving students in service projects is a top priority, because it helps them develop the habit of good citizenship. These large projects also emphasize the value of teamwork. Part of each team’s job is to analyze and solve problems that arise during the project, and these challenges help students learn to think creatively.

Developing individual projects is no different. I encourage students to create their own designs instead of relying on printed plans or patterns. Designing a project helps a student develop thinking and problem-solving skills.

Because of our reputation, community members freely suggest challenging service projects. They know the terrific capabilities of woodshop student teams. Recently, student teams worked with the fire department to install smoke alarms in the homes of residents who depend on “Meals on Wheels.” Teams have completed educational environmental displays and constructed new furniture for the school board’s meeting room. They’ve built trophy cases for both middle schools and even a wishing well—a community “thank you” gesture to the founder of the international “Make-A-Wish” Foundation, who lives in Prescott.


Do students ever profit from their work?

Of course. The chance to make money can be a great motivator. Woodshop students sell projects to libraries, furniture stores, city government and private citizens. Connecting with local businesses gives woodshop students a chance to learn business skills and profit from creativity and hard work. Some students set up their own businesses, making pens for example, or laserengraved name plaques.

We also help our students develop employable skills. I encourage local industries to provide opportunities for on-the-job training, internships and apprenticeships. Many of my students have gone on to work in cabinet shops and other woodworking-related industries; others have become business owners.


What role does new technology play?

Students embrace technology, so a woodshop full of cool new equipment attracts them like moths to a flame. Using state-of-the-art equipment helps students understand the changing nature of woodworking. New acquisitions also keep our program in compliance with state Department of Education requirements and standards. Recently, our program received a state grant to obtain a computer-operated laser engraver—my students love using this machine; it never sits idle. Donations from the Prescott Area Woodturners Club allowed purchasing a CompuCarve machine.


How do you attract new students?

Well, that’s the $64,000 question. I actively recruit new students, and I use the best salespeople I’ve got: woodshop veterans. Before 8th grade students register for high school, they attend an open house to learn about our Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. I have woodshop students make the case for choosing woodshop.

The 8th-graders also receive an interactive CD with information about each CTE program. Both parents and students tell me the woodshop presentation is very effective. It includes digital photography, video, documents and sound to deliver the message that woodshop is cool.

Historically, attracting young women into woodworking hasn’t been easy. And now governmental standards require achieving 30% non-traditional enrollment to stay funded (in woodshop, females qualify as non-traditional students). We’re committed to being the first woodworking program in Arizona to reach this goal, so a portion of our woodshop CD focuses on young women working on fabulous projects and talking about their unique experiences in woodshop.

At the most recent CTE open house, our female demonstrators drew such large crowds that one mother asked me if there were any woodshop classes open for boys! As a result of attending the open house or viewing our CD, more than 50 girls have signed up for woodshop.

It’s also very important to coordinate recruiting efforts with the counseling staff. Last fall, during the days of standardized testing, our counseling staff sent groups of students through the woodshop. Many of them expressed interest in enrolling.

What does it take to sustain this program?

It’s a huge balancing act, really, between maintaining enrollment, refining the curriculum, providing cool hands-on experiences and developing new recruiting strategies. Full enrollment brings its own set of challenges, like space for projects, machine wear and tear, and overcrowded classes. On the flip side, increased popularity strengthens the woodshop program and makes its future more secure. I believe most instructors would welcome the challenges rather than face extinction.

Tell us about a dynamic woodworking school or vibrant teaching program. What makes it work? Point out notable teaching strategies and student accomplishments. Explain how the program excites students about woodworking and tell us how it helps them develop woodworking skills. Whether the program operates in a public school, community center or a private workshop, we want to hear about its success. E-mail your story to


This story originally appeared in American Woodworker September 2007, issue #130.

September 2007, issue #130

Purchase this back issue.

Click any image to view a larger version.

Instructor Tom Bockman explains relationships between a shop drawing, a cutting list and a cutting diagram. Tom is convinced that woodworking projects help students develop cognitive skills.

Projects by Prescott High School’s woodshop students are frequently featured in the local newspaper.

Jonathan Novak and Dustin Olague begin work on a trophy case project for the middle school.

Devin Dennis and Zach McClintock build miniature chairs to donate to the Elks Theater restoration fundraiser.

Elliot Logan trims the edging on a new table for the school board’s meeting room.

Jodi Clayton sets up the laser engraver.

Jonathan Novak mastered the Craftsman CompuCarve machine.

TJ Shermann finishes a custom-order project.

Woodshop veterans Lindsey Dill and Denise Harrison recruit new students by talking shop and handing out promotional CDs.

Erick Ornedo gets ready to turn his first pen.;

Alisha Apolinar helped recruiting efforts by appearing on the promotional CD and naming woodshop as her favorite class.