Students earn while they learn
Wood shop project turns into profits for teens
November 14, 2000
“Hey, mister, wanna buy a chair?”
About 32 Moffat County High School students have been pitching the Craig community door-to-door. Their sales spiel may not be quite that blunt, but their hard work and enthusiasm have paid off to the tune of $20,000 earned by selling 520 slatted chairs with canvas seats.
Actually, they asked potential buyers to invest in the future of MCHS by investing in one of their chairs.
And not just ordinary chairs, either.
“You should see all we have to do,” sophomore Brandon Barclay said. “It takes 55 minutes to make each chairwe have to cut out all the boards, drill all the holes, screw them all together, sew the cloth….”
Students sold the mass-produced chairs for $39.99. The students keep a portion of the profit, and the balance goes back into the wood shop program to purchase materials and supplies for other class projects.
The three top sellers took orders for 149 chairs. Junior Matt Piotrowski and sophomore Adam Crabtree sold 55 chairs each and each got a paycheck for $825; sophomore Brandon Barclay sold 39 chairs and got a paycheck for $600.
“An $800 paycheck is pretty good for a tenth grade kid,” said high school wood shop teacher Craig Conrad. “Instead of them buying mag wheels or a pickup truck with that money, I talked with them about investing their money and running a business.”
The wood shop program was in jeopardy when Conrad took it over several years ago. “It was in the red, and the school board was looking at shutting it down,” he said. “I wanted to keep the program going and make it real to the students. If there’s a problem with school in the first place, it’s because it’s not real.”
Conrad added some twists to the MCHS program in 1986 that not only pulled it up, but has earned coverage in national magazines and response from all over the world. “How do you do it?” other schools ask him.
The answer is quite simple.
“I came up with a program that hires the kids they actually run their own business, and long ago they saved this program,” he said.
What are the fringe benefits of Conrad’s program?
He invites professionals to speak to the students and educates them on IRA’s, insurance and smart ways to run their own businesses.
He takes it seriously.
“Simple math makes it real,” he said. “They had to keep a ledger sheet on each chair and I told them, ‘If you make any single math mistake, you forfeit your paycheck.’ Instantly, I had 32 math majors in class.”
The students chose to sell chairs for their class project. Each chair goes through a mass production run with approximately 10 steps. Conrad said the students formulated a procedure sheet for the process and a flow chart. All told, it will take one-half to one million machine operations to complete all the chairs.
“I was really impressed they were able to take this project and run with it,” Conrad said. “”It’s their thing. I’m just there to make sure it goes right. They are so capable in the shop I barely need to be out there.”
The whirring of buzz saws and industrious clank of stacking boards backs up his statement. It looks like a real manufacturing plant. There are 520 chairs on the production line, and they will be finished and delivered by the end of March, as promised to the buyers. Guaranteed.