JONESPORT — Jacob Kirby is one of many Jonesport-Beals High School grads who make teacher Randy Grant proud.
Kirby, who graduated in 2017, took part in Project Learning, a hands-on course designed to help students explore technical fields. Once he earns his welding certification next month, Kirby will launch his own business.
“The first time he ever touched a welder was here,” said Grant, who teaches the class, which is just now completing its fifth year.
Although it is open to everyone, Project Learning is particularly appealing to students who aren’t interested in traditional academic classes. For them, the program is a reason to stay in school, Grant said.
It’s working. Grant said many students don’t want to leave when the bell rings to signal the end of the 50-minute class. Some students even enroll for more than one period. Enrollment stands at 42 students — including seven girls — which represents more than half of the school’s 75 students.
“This is an elective. Nobody has to take this,” Grant said.
Students don’t even realize they’re learning physics, and geometry, among other things.
“The big thing in education is problem solving. This is the epitome of problem solving,” Grant said.
“We’re a small school with big ideas,” said Principal Michael Kelley, who wanted to offer something geared to those unlikely to attend college for a traditional degree. Project Learning is also designed to keep kids in the area when they graduate by providing them access to careers.
The program accomplishes its goal by specifically teaching skills needed in the area. In addition to welding, students build lobster traps and other items they can sell.
The community has been supportive, Grant said.
Students are building picnic tables that will be purchased by the town of Jonesport.
T.A. King & Sons Building Supply in Jonesport is providing the school with the materials to build a storage shed, which the company will sell upon completion.
Brooks Trap Mill in Jonesboro provides the school with the materials for students to build lobster traps at cost.
Students also build lobster traps for the Friendship Trap Co. in Columbia Falls.
Next on Grant’s agenda is to begin teaching the skills necessary for residential construction.
“I’m hoping within a year or two I’m spitting out a couple of people who are able to join a team and start building houses,” said Grant, who worked in construction for more than 25 years.
Social studies teacher Tony Beal said his daughter, Lauren, a freshman honor student, is one of the students enrolled.
“She loves it. It’s her favorite class,” said Beal, who also owns a lobster boat. “My daughter can weld [better] than I can and she’s 14.”
Although undecided about her career plans, Lauren said the class provides useful skills.
“I made a Christmas gift for my mother,” she said. “I made her a big cutting board.”
Beal and Kelley attribute much of the program’s success to Grant. Beal said introducing Lauren to Grant sealed the deal.
“Randy’s selling point is here’s all the stuff, this is what we do and I want you to be here,” Beal said. “If it wasn’t for Randy, I don’t think this program would be as good.”