In 2010, Northern Lights Public Schools, industry partners and our local communities invested in the Mobile Trades Lab as an experiential learning facility, to expose students to the carpentry, welding and pipefitting trades. It consists of two semi-trailers that transform into a self-contained work shop space.
Over time the carpentry and pipefitting content gave way to a predominant focus on welding and metal fabrication. The intent of the lab for the past few years has been to provide experiential learning in the welding trade to middle school students; however it is also accessed by the students in the Outreach schools when it is located in proximity throughout the year.
Given the number of schools and wide geographic area of Northern Lights Public Schools, a rotating three-year schedule has been developed through which at least three different Northern Lights schools access the lab each year:
Year one the lab services students in the Glendon, Iron River, Ardmore and Art Smith Aviation Academy;
Year two the lab moves to accommodate H. E Bourgoin, Cold Lake Middle, Nelson Heights and the Bonnyville and Cold Lake Outreach schools;
Year three the lab will be accessed by Kikino School, Aurora Middle School, Ecole Plamondon as well as by the Outreach students from the Jouneys Learning Academy, and Crossroads Outreach school.
While the lab was located at Aurora Middle School in 2015-2016, Outreach students accessed the Mobile Trades Lab for welding. The teacher who accompanied them to the lab has also been a participant in some welding professional development for staff:
"The Welding program has had a positive effect on the students from both the Crossroads and Lac La Biche sites. The students are acquiring lifelong skills that they are able to transfer to any work site or in their daily lives. The attendance on Welding Days for Crossroads Outreach is consistently positive with an average of 12 eager students. The students are very engaged, thoughtful, creative and eager to complete perfect welds and projects.
"During a post-safety meeting, students were asked how they are enjoying welding; all students stated they were excited about learning about the trades and possible jobs that can result from the skills they are learning. Students stated that they feel better about themselves as their confidence is a lot better. Students also stated that the instructor (George) gives clear, concise instructions with life experiences from the workforce that make welding meaningful.
"Students are completing many different types of welds at the first year apprentice level and are eager to receive feedback to further improve. All of the students who are attending welding from the Crossroads site are aboriginal are making many projects to reflect and represent their cultures and community.”
George Berland is the welding instructor that has been working in the lab for the past two years. As George works with the kids they are exposed to all aspects of the welding trade. Safety is the focus at all times, and the acquired skills are not merely the fusing of metal to metal. The kids get a chance to be artistic and use technology as well as mechanical tools to produce items and projects that are meaningful and of interest to them. Here are a few samples of what has been produced:
The students are provided an opportunity to develop skills and attitudes that will serve them well beyond the confines of the lab. Due to the positive aspects of this program, and the relationship George builds with kids, three of his students competed in the Alberta Skills welding competition at Portage College in 2016 (read the news release HERE), and many students have expressed interest in becoming Journeymen in the welding trade.
The enthusiasm for the lab is not only demonstrated by students. As mentioned earlier, the Mobile Trades Lab has also been accessed by some Northern Lights staff who had a keen interest in welding as part of their professional development. In May 2015 five Northern Lights teachers joined the Instructor at the time (Lionel Campeau) for three days of welding training and exposure. The intent was to give teacher a chance to build confidence and competence in the area of welding in order to enhance the programming at their individual schools.
Here is what some of them had to say about the experience:
"The time I spent learning in the Mobile Trades Lab helped me to better my ability to demonstrate different types of welding as well as how to troubleshoot common machine issues. I was able to see an array of different student levels of welding so I can adequately assess in my own classroom. By attending these days with the welding lab I am able to more effectively and efficiency implement our welding program. …”
“The welding PD that we received was beyond excellent, I am still talking with staff, friends, and family about how this time we had helped to develop ideas, techniques and confidence in taking this important skill back to my students."
“When my own children saw the projects that I brought home they were asking me when they are going to learn that in school.”
The most recent triumph related to the lab came from the ingenuity and innovation of one of the Bonnyville Outreach students. He had finished his project for credit and asked if he could design and make some crosses for his family. George let him “go for it." When the crosses were completed George was so impressed he told the young man how great they were, and that he should go show them to the ladies in the front office at the school. The ladies were quite taken by their beauty, and asked if they could have some made. During a visit near Remembrance Day another lady from the community saw the crosses and requested 30 to be made for the local Legion members as a Christmas Gift. In return, she gave a very generous donation to the Mobile Trades Lab program. (Read the full news release HERE.) George, the designing student and the Outreach team of classmates set out and manufactured 30 of the small crosses as requested. After being professionally engraved the crosses were presented at the Legion Christmas celebration on Dec 5th.
As we move forward with the Mobile Trades Lab program there will be no doubt more success stories and celebrations to be experienced. The ones shared here are only a few of the positive aspects and results of this program. The assistance from Industry partners and supportive communities, along with the hard work and dedication put in by Lionel and George, play a critical role in the enthusiasm of the students. The results of the time and effort will continue long after the ‘bell rings to end the school day’ for our children, and will have a lasting impact in or communities as they move on with their lives and careers.