As you near the woodshop at Interlake High School the muted bass of the shop’s sound system is the first clue that students are hard at work. Open the door and you are greeted with a blast of music and flying sawdust.
“My favorite part of this class is that we get to be creative in the way we handle our projects,” Interlake senior Jonah Peretz said. “It’s a class where I can come and be creative and build things.”
Teacher Michael Fondahn delivers the day’s lesson, then sets students to work and moves around the room, supervising and providing help and guidance.
“It’s one of those classes where you have to be hands-on to learn,” Fondahn said. “It’s up to students to take initiative and ownership of the projects. I’m proud of how engaged they are each day and how much pride they take in their work.”
On a recent project where students built jewelry boxes, the importance of math and attention to detail in the shop was readily apparent. Even being a few millimeters or degrees off on a cut could result in gaps when they constructed their boxes. Then comes the creative problem solving.
“It was supposed to be a 45 degree angle and we had to make sure it fit and there were no gaps,” freshman Jerzey Todd explained.
Fondahn is new to Interlake this year, coming from teaching PLTW Robotics, Engineering and Design classes at Chinook Middle School to relaunch Interlake’s program after its yearlong hiatus. The rebirth of the shop includes three courses: Woods Technology I, Woods Technology II and Introduction to Construction Management.
“This year is about ramping everything up,” Fondahn explained, noting that task includes redesigning the curriculum and the shop itself.
In the semester long Woods I class students learn the fundamentals including safety, how to use machines in the shop, layout and design of projects, as well as general fabrication knowledge.
As students’ skills advance in Woods II the projects also advance and they begin to learn about computer-aided design, also known as CAD. “My philosophy on this one is, ‘If you can design it within the CAD software, you can build it in the shop,’” Fondahn said.
The Construction Management class focuses on bigger projects and on advanced project design. This year’s project is focused on shop design, with Fondahn serving as the site manager. Students will also learn about light commercial construction and how to work with a variety of machines and processes found in the construction trades.
“It’ll give them insight into the industry,” Fondahn said.
The vision for the class in the years to come is that students will work on building larger structures with a student taking on the role of foreman and overseeing three to five peers with Fondahn acting like the owner, periodically checking in. Fondahn is also working toward the course becoming part of WANIC and students being able to earn college credit.
“The skills these students will be leaving with would without a doubt qualify them for an entry level job on a construction crew,” Fondahn said. He also explained that students can go on to programs at technical schools, or earn a two- or four-year degree in related fields.
One of his favorite parts of teaching woods and construction management classes is seeing how students grow in confidence in the shop, and how many of his students connect with older family members over their projects.
Fondahn said he hopes to impart an appreciation for woodworking and the trades.
“They’re starting a lifelong skill,” Fondahn said. “Whether it remains a hobby or becomes a career, the skills obtained in this shop will last a lifetime.”