Pearen and Canfor Elementary Skills Trailer wheel way to Giscome

Gian-Luca, a Grade 5 student, works on his wooden stepstool project in the Giscome Elementary School gym.

Logan, Grade 6, and Sophie, Grade 5, assemble their stepstools.  

The Canfor Elementary Skills Trailer was making its first stop of the school year.

The trailer was parked outside of Giscome Elementary School for five days.

They were building much more than wooden stepstools.

Students at Giscome Elementary School were building real-world skills. They were assembling, piece by piece, the ability to follow directions and solve problems. They were even constructing new levels of confidence in their abilities. This was a project to help them stand taller in so many ways.

It all happened last week when School District No. 57’s Trevor Pearen and The Canfor Elementary Skills Trailer paid a visit to Giscome, a tiny rural school 45 kilometres northeast of Prince George. Pearen and his shop-on-wheels were there from Monday to Friday for the first stop on this year’s tour of the district. By the time the 2019-2020 school year is done, Pearen will have worked with about 1,500 students at close to 26 different elementary schools.

“The purpose of the program is to go to elementary schools and get students working with their hands and maybe even thinking about the trades in the future,” Pearen said. “It fits in with the ADST (Applied Design, Skills and Technology) curriculum. There are a lot of teachers out there who don’t really have the skills to work with a lot of the hand tools and when we do this program it gives them the skills because most of the time they have to take part in the project as well. Then they can actually sign out tools from the District Learning Commons.”

Pearen is in his second year as SD 57’s Elementary Skills Teacher. Last year, he was based in the wood shop at John McInnis Centre and this is his first year going mobile with the trailer. He has taken over from Bruce Northrop, who hauled the trailer from site to site for the first two years of the program.

Since Pearen started teaching woodworking to elementary students, he has seen, over and over again, the benefits of getting them involved.

“It gets them thinking in a much different way – how things go together, working in specific steps in order to build something, planning things out, following instructions, measuring,” he said. “There are so many skills that they pick up from this.”

At Giscome, the school’s small gymnasium was turned into a wood shop for the week. Each day, the students – who ranged from Grade 4 to Grade 7 – brought a huge amount of enthusiasm into their workspace. They worked on their stepstools on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, while Tuesday was set aside for Pearen to help primary-aged students do a craft project that didn’t require the use of power tools.

“They have loved it,” Pearen said of the overall response from the students. “They come in in the morning and they’re really excited to start. They’re really excited to work with their hands and use their brains in a little bit of a different way.”

For the Grade 4-7 group, safe and proper use of the tools was, of course, a top priority.

“Safety is important, especially with little kids and little hands,” said Pearen, who grew up as the son of a carpenter and has an extensive background in trades. “Young kids are a little bit more impulsive at times so teaching them how to use tools safely, and the safety protocols, is really, really important. Everything I demonstrate, I demonstrate completely hands-on. I watch the kids and they almost get signed off on whether or not they can use a tool. If they have any questions or anything like that I make sure that they know I’ll answer them, and I always watch them. When they’re first using the tools I only bring out a couple tools and that way I can really keep my eye on them. And of course they always have to wear eye protection and ear protection and everything else.”

Jason Schwartz, Vice Principal at Giscome, said Pearen was a popular presence. Feedback from students and parents was nothing but positive.

“The excitement has built not just within the students but a lot of times I’m having to connect with the community in Willow River and I’m having parents come up to me individually and share just how excited they are to have their children participate in a program like this,” Schwartz said.

“The value of this is hard to explain in sheer words. In this area – Upper Fraser, Sinclair Mills and Willow River – a lot of the parents are coming from the logging, pulp and paper and lumber industry in general and they all appreciate the fact that we’ve connected some sort of skill rather than just focusing on academics alone.”

Schwartz also noted that SD 57’s elementary skills program more than meets the expectations laid out in the provincial curriculum.

“We’re actually exceeding them, in my opinion,” he said. “This is very focused. It is a one-week opportunity for these students but, through that, they have the opportunity to think it through and maybe it’s part of their longer-term plans or goals in life, that they will go into the skilled trades. I think some of them will be heading in that direction.”

This week, Pearen and The Canfor Elementary Skills Trailer are at Quinson Elementary School.

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