The sound of nails being driven into shingles and the snipping of aluminum siding filled the Kodiak High School woodshop Thursday as a dozen students worked in pairs to build six dog houses. All of them were nearly finished, with various stages of roofing needing to be completed.
The dog houses are the result of three weeks of intensive hands-on learning, according to KHS instructor Malcolm Bennett. He said one goal was to introduce students to the construction trade and take away some fundamental skills.
“I don’t know that everyone will leave here as a carpenter, but as long as they learn that skill proficiency with tools, I’m happy,” Bennett said.
His course is part of an intensive summer program at KHS that crams a semester’s worth of information into three weeks.
“My goal was to teach these guys some construction techniques,” Bennett said. “What I wanted them to learn is why we use certain materials, how to frame and sheath, do trim work and roofing — a little bit of everything.”
His approach to teaching included imparting life skills “and why it’s important to strive toward perfection and work in teams.”
A English teacher during the normal school year, Bennett brought at least 25 years of construction experience to bear in the summer program.
Lessons included how to use shop tools such as chop saws, proper hammer techniques, navigating and moving large objects around a crowded or cluttered workspace, and workplace safety.
The dozen students received a required 10-hour Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety course along with students from Anthony Cavan’s CNC fabrication and Hunter Blair’s welding class. According to Bennett, the students will receive certification from OSHA due to the workshop.
Safety has been a core component of Bennett’s teaching for the past three weeks.
“One of the things I want to emphasize is safety and why we do things a certain way,” he said.
Using a hammer properly was one example.
“When I was a kid, I would just come out whacking with the hammer and whale on things,” he said. “It wasn’t until a little older that I understood why you use the hammer a certain way, how to take care of finished materials.”
KHS senior Mari Mangrobang called the summer class fun to take. She already had experience with wood classes during the normal school year.
“It’s really fun to see what I can do with wood and it’s something I like to do,” Mangrobang said.
The summer class, she added, differs from a normal semester.
“With this one it’s more like you’re actually building stuff,” she said. “With wood class, you’re kind of just gluing or making a bunch of designs.”
Mangrobang found measurements to be the most challenging component “because you’ve got to be precise, otherwise you’ve got to re-do everything or you’re wasting wood.”
Mangrobang said the skills she learned in the summer course will help when she takes another class in the fall.
“I got to learn to use new tools and just learn different techniques,” Mangrobang said.
Efficiency and constructive use of materials was another component, Bennett said, especially explaining the cost of materials and how they increased during the pandemic.
“I sat them down and explained how much these shingles cost per bundle and how much corner boards are,” he said. “I want them to be more thoughtful about how to go about things in life, especially working in teams.”
Confidence was another trait he instilled in students. Some, he noted, had little grasp of the tools of trade at the start. By the end, one student had become confident enough to accomplish much on the team-built dog house that he was “gushing at how much has been accomplished.”
Others, he said, jumped right in with the concept of getting the nails into the board.
“Some of these kids remind me of myself when I was young, just got to get the nails in and get it up there,” he said. “But shooting for precision and accuracy is important. Will you always hit perfection? Probably not, but if you strive for it and it’s a little bit off, we can live with it.”
Accepting mediocrity, on the other hand, would result in substandard results, he said.
“There are two things I did not want here: ‘I don’t care’ and ‘close enough.’ I wrote it on the white board the first day,” Bennett said. “It’s a huge win for this class. It took a little bit of time but I couldn’t be happier at how things are turning out.”
Building the dog houses was an extension of providing life skills, he said.
“When the administration approached me about this, I asked if it was possible to do a construction project, so I thought about things we could build in a three-week period … and then how to turn it into a civic project,” Bennett said.
Some initial ideas included building benches for the park or the Chiniak Bay Elder House long-term care facility. Then the dog houses came to mind, with the goal of donating them to Kodiak Animal Shelter.
“I had kids write down proposals for it and we went to talk to the Animal Shelter,” he said.
Students went on a tour of the facility to learn about the needs, according to Kodiak Animal Shelter Director Jean Turman.
"They put on a great presentation here when they took the tour," Turman said. "We explained what we do here and what type of programs here and how many pets come through and how many volunteers we have and what they do."
Bennett provided the overall design for the project and had the students get started.
“It’s been a really great experience and I’m proud of how things turned out,” he said.
Mangrobang, the senior, said she enjoyed the particular project.
“It’s nothing like what I’ve done before so it was nice to do something new,” she said. “This gives the dogs a better shelter because it’s built to be weatherproof against Kodiak weather and people who adopt the dogs won’t have to spend money.”
Turman said the project will be beneficial once they take ownership of the dog houses.
“This type of donation doesn't happen very often, as we haven't had them built in 10 years," Turman said. "We're really appreciative that they are able and we can send them home with a dog that is adopted. It takes an expense off the new owner."