As the saws stop spinning for winter break at Nelson’s Silver King Campus, students in the Selkirk College Fine Woodworking Program are heading into the holidays filled with gratitude for the chance to learn in the shop environment.
Under strict pandemic protocols, industry and trades shop spaces at the Silver King campus were the first to reopen for in-person learning back in May. Vital to progressing through educational steps towards Red Seal certification, students have been taking part in hands-on skill building in nine different disciplines represented at the trades-based campus.
“It’s really meaningful to be able to come to the shop and learn,” says Madelaine Nelson, one of 19 students in the current Fine Woodworking Program cohort. “It’s great to have such wonderful and passionate instructors, getting to learn from them in person makes this education feel more powerful. It makes us dive in more than perhaps we usually would. Instead of going out in the evenings with friends, I spend my nights at home looking at veneer samples online. It’s intense, but that’s a good thing.”
Arriving in the West Kootenay from Kingston, Ontario this past August, Nelson had been planning this stage of her post-secondary education for two years. Well before the world knew anything about COVID-19, the 27-year-old was preparing for a journey west. The pandemic cast a shadow over her ambitions, but Nelson was relieved when Selkirk College created a learning environment at the Silver King Campus deemed safe for in-person training.
“It’s a long way to come, but things happen for a reason,” says Nelson, who worked in the restaurant industry prior to switching gears. “Getting to know my classmates’ stories and backgrounds over the last few months, a lot of us made big life changing decisions and there is a bonding aspect to that. When we are in the shop, we know that we have each other in this common goal.”
Delivering on tangible outcomes
With a sterling reputation across the country, the nine-month Fine Woodworking Program prepares students for apprenticeship positions in the cabinetmaker (joiner) trade or for careers as fine furniture builders. Since September, the shop has been buzzing with activity amidst the sawdust and creativity. Students and instructors ensure that common tools are sanitized, masks are worn, physical distancing is respected and compliance is foundational.
“A lot of things in our society are obviously not the same, so getting to come to work in the shop and meet interesting classmates has been huge,” says 19-year-old Gabriel Riendeau, who arrived to the West Kootenay from his home in Ottawa. “We have no problem wearing masks and doing what it takes to stay in the shop. Pretty hard to do woodworking online, so we will do what it takes to stay in the shop after the break.”
Proof of successful focus in an altered learning environment is captured in the box making project completed in early-December. Using primarily hand tools and honing skills essential for the second half of the program, students created stunning pieces that illustrate the level of enthusiasm learners have for their education.
“There is a lot to consider outside the walls of our shop, but when students arrive to learn it’s been impressive to watch their passion to acquire these new skills,” says instructor Dave Ringheim, who works in partnership with instructional assistant Scott Stevens. “Both on the tools and with their design, there seems to be an extra level of energy that translates into really great work. It’s a spirit that I feel throughout all the shops on this campus.”