Its no boyz allowed in unique SHS engineering/construction class

by: Barbara Sherman WORKING HARD — Edy Ridge fifth-grader Josie Rutschman (left) works on her birdhouse with Sherwood High School sophomores Aspen LaMare and Sidney Franco during a joint workshop held as part of SHS’s innovative engineering/construction class called “No Boyz Allowed.”

In addition to a lot of happy birds flying around Sherwood, there are also some elementary and high school girls who are flying high too.

At Sherwood High School, teachers John Niebergall and John Dickover started a girls-only engineering/construction class called 'No Boyz Allowed,' and on March 3, 25 girls in Martha Mueller's fifth-grade class at Edy Ridge Elementary came over to SHS to work with the high school girls on building birdhouses for bluebirds

The high school girls pre-cut the parts, so the birdhouses were ready to be assembled by teams of students when the Edy Ridge girls arrived.

In addition, the elementary students got to see SHS's laser-cutter and 3D modeling software in action, taking home souvenirs from each.

But even more important than providing homes for birds was the learning opportunity for the girls, who found they liked working independently away from 'boyz.'

'It's fun,' said Josie Rutschman, an Edy Ridge fifth-grader. 'I learned a lot about birdhouses.'

SHS sophomores Sidney Franco and Aspen LaMare worked with Josie on her birdhouse, with Sidney saying, 'This class is really fun. I like the freedom to choose what project you want to do, and you can make gifts for people.'

Aspen added, 'They have created an environment here where boys don't show you how to do everything. I looked at art classes and saw this one.

'I took engineering at Sherwood Middle School, and the boys were showing you how to do things because they already knew how.'

In another group, fifth-grader Lindsay Stadick worked on a birdhouse with SHS juniors Audrey O'Leary and Katlin LaVier, who said, 'This class is a lot of fun. It's a lot more fun without boys. They used to take over my projects.

'And I didn't know all these people in my class before even though we were in the same grade, so I've gotten to know them.'

Audrey added, 'I thought it would be cool to take this class and get experience on the different saws. I took a woods class in middle school, but here we have bigger, better tools.'

In the computer room next door to the shop, SHS sophomore Jordan Niemi was running the laser-cutter, engraving nametags for both kids and the parents who accompanied students to SHS.

'This is definitely a great class,' Jordan said. 'You get hands-on experience. It would be awesome if it was at other schools so other kids could get this experience.'

Niebergall also showed visitors metal signs produced by the new plasma laser cutter at the school, which his students have been excited to use.

SHS junior Jenny Hawkins was running the stickering machine that uses a dot-matrix printer to produce stickers with peel-off backs that Edy Ridge students could take home as souvenirs.

'I never thought I'd be taking this class and doing these things,' Jenny said. 'It gives you a broad overview of what branches out from these skills we learn here. This gives me a lot more options for college and has definitely influenced what I will do - I'm thinking about architecture.

'Before, you would never think of girls in an engineering setting, but this class makes me see that it's OK.'

The joint Edy Ridge-SHS event happened due to a connection between Niebergall and Mueller, who was Niebergall's student when she attended SHS.

She was at a New Teacher Academy meeting at SHS in January, and 'during a break at the meeting, I headed down to the woodshop/engineering and architecture classroom,' she said. 'I wanted to say hi to my favorite teacher (Niebergall).

'I did all of my K-12 schooling in the Sherwood School District, and in high school my favorite class was woodshop. It was the class I looked forward to every day, and it was essentially what motivated me to get up in the morning.'

Niebergall knew that Mueller wanted to be a teacher and that she was pursuing her dream job after high school.

'The week of graduation, he told me, 'When you become a teacher, come back and see me, and we'll do a woods project with your students.' This is something I have never forgotten, and I decided to see if he was going to be true to his word.

'John and I have stayed in touch since high school, we touch base through email occasionally, and I always stop by his classroom when I'm in SHS. So it wasn't unusual for me to stop by to say hi (that day in January).'

Mueller had just started teaching fifth grade at Edy Ridge in mid-November as a substitute teacher for Kati Jackson, who went on maternity leave and returned to the classroom March 7. However, Jackson and Mueller will be job-sharing for the remainder of the year.

'When I stopped by John's classroom, I asked if there was any possibility of doing a project with my students this year,' Mueller said. 'I threw out the idea of maybe building birdhouses, and the ball got rolling from there. We wanted to include both classrooms (the woodshop plus the engineering and architecture classroom).

'I would have done anything to have had that opportunity when I went to SHS. I loved woodshop; however, usually I was the only girl in the class. I think there was one other girl, but that was it.

'I have a passion for woodshop and really wanted to find a way to share this passion with my own students. John Dickover, John Niebergall and I thought it would be a great opportunity for my class to get a hands-on experience with something - especially my female students - that they may not have otherwise.'

Over time, the details of the event were worked out, but it wasn't a free ride for Mueller's students - 'My students did have to earn this field trip,' she said.

Her students worked hard to earn enough behavior 'bingo' points to fill an entire board in the classroom.

'Three weeks before the field trip, they had about 15 spots to fill on the board,' Mueller said. 'I told them that when they filled the board, I would have a big surprise for them, and we would have an entire day of fun. I decided to motivate them - I would tell them what I was hoping to do with them for the second half of our fun day (the woodshop field trip).

'They were all very excited about it and from that day forward we started learning about the Western bluebird in the classroom.'

The girls filled the board, and on March 3, they traveled to SHS.

'We started our field trip with a tour around the school,' Mueller said. 'This was awesome, and my students were able to see many of the elective opportunities that are offered at SHS.'

From the beginning of the planning process, Mueller told her students that she hoped they would decide to hang the birdhouses around Edy Ridge.

'We talked about how nice it would be to have bluebirds around the school and in our wetlands,' she said. 'I told the students that anyone who wanted to hang theirs around the school would get to go hang with the other students who are choosing to do this along with two parent volunteers.

'I asked my students when we got back from SHS on Thursday if any of them would like to hang theirs on Edy Ridge property, and five of my students have decided they would like to do this.'

Mueller's students also wrote thank you letters to their high school mentors.

'The letters were very sweet and sincere,' she said. 'They really just had a blast, and ultimately I just wanted to show them what opportunities they have at our high school and to get them a little out of their element and doing something they had never done before.

'It was fun and brought back lots of memories for me. My students and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.'

Niebergall and Dickover received an Oregon Department of Education grant through Portland Community College to pay for the event, and other guests attending were Mary Bunn of the ODE, and three people from PCC - Dan Findley, a dean; Winona Robin, with promotions; and Lynn Wilson-Dean, PAVTEC coordinator and provider of the funds.