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Indigenous students excel in dual credit carpentry program on high school campus

The school, which serves First Nations students of Maskwacis, recently launched a carpentry track that allows students to shave a year off earning a carpentry designation

Extensive carpentry training is an exciting new venture at the Mamawi Atosketan Native School (MANS) north of Ponoka.

The school, which serves First Nations students of Maskwacis, has launched a carpentry track allowing students to shave a year off earning a professional carpentry designation.

Instructor Jonathan Belinsky, who is a red seal journeyman carpenter, said the dual credit option is available through a few high schools in Alberta, but only MANS offers it on campus.  

"What the government of Alberta provides is called a dual credit pathway, so schools can either partner with a college or do it alone if they have a certified journeyman carpenter and a teacher who can teach the course," he said. 

"It's essentially the same content that is taught in the first year at NAIT, SAIT, Red Deer Polytechnic, and Medicine Hat College in their trades departments."

He noted the majority of schools that are including this are doing it through the pathway of a college or a trade school.

"Also, with the donation we also received from the Ptarmigan Foundation, the other caveat is that you had to have an industry-standard shop," he said.

"You also have to have the same tools NAIT or SAIT would offer, and the same book work they would have to offer the dual credit course," he said.

"We didn't have that until the Ptarmigan Foundation came in and donated the money we needed to provide the shop.

"When they were looking at hiring me, I said that I was a journeyman carpentry and had carpentry experience of over 15 years and I had been teaching for over four years. I also said I had wanted to come in and be able to offer a full carpentry program," he explained.

"Not just general carpentry, but something that is aiming towards something bigger.

"We didn't know what that would look like at that moment. So we put a proposal together and presented it to the Ptarmigan Foundation. They saw what our long-term vision was, and they said they'd be willing to help us to get to that point."

The school's dual credit program is also an extension of the offerings of the Bird Construction Building Technologies Shop at MANS and made possible by the support of J. Richard Bird and the Ptarmigan Foundation. 

"We don't want to just teach the students first-year; we want to get through the first-year book material, but we also want to prepare them for what they would learn in their second-year, third-year, and fourth-year."

He also pointed out that it's advantageous to be tackling their studies in the familiar setting of their school.

"We are trying to eliminate as many obstacles along the way as we can, and provide the easiest pathway to success that we can for a carpentry career."

The dual credit program kicked in for this quarter of the school year, but it's already a hit with students and Belinsky is seeing its exciting potential for the fall and the years to come.

"The students have helped me build out the shop. We've got the tools put in place, and they've helped me get it all running," he said.

"It was a partnership of all of us working together to get this shop to where it is."

For Belinksy, seeing his students become invested in the training is rewarding. He's also pointed out to them how developing math and language arts skills are critical to successful carpentry careers.

"When I talk about carpentry, I see it as a way to bring everything together in a practical way. It's hands-on learning," he said.

"There is never a boring day in carpentry. One day, you might do demolition, and the next day you might be building something brand new. The next day you might be doing finishing work putting trim around windows and doors. There is never a dull moment.

"And for me, it's also about seeing them getting excited about job opportunities, about what this can mean for them, and how they are working on something bigger than high school; something past their high school studies."

Looking ahead, this July the peer leader Kasecey Crier and other carpentry students will be able to introduce more Maskwacis youth to carpentry as mentors through a skateboard construction project open to local youth.

Crier, who is in Grade 11, said she's enjoying tackling the range of projects and expanding her knowledge base.

"I started carpentry back in Grade 6," she said, adding that her interest in the field was sparked early on.

"This program has given me a good perspective on life, too."

Dallas Saddleback, another carpentry student, agreed.

"It's an awesome experience, and it's setting me up to go on to college. I'm looking forward to that," he said. 

Like Crier, he also aims to run his own carpentry business some day.

"Carpentry makes me happy, and it makes me think about the things that I can do," he said. 

"That also makes me feel good about myself."

Ultimately, the dual credit program is also an extension of the offerings of the Bird Construction Building Technologies Shop at the school and is made possible by the support of J. Richard Bird and the aformentioned Ptarmigan Foundation.




















Mark Weber

About the Author: Mark Weber

I've been a part of the Black Press Media family for about a dozen years now, with stints at the Red Deer Express, the Stettler Independent, and now the Lacombe Express.
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