Over the past eight years, Randy Garner has been a steady and positive influence throughout the Meridian School District. After spending twenty years on the river and starting a construction company, Randy’s diverse knowledge and work ethic have provided a positive example for the five hundred-plus students he impacts daily. As the Director of Maintenance, Randy leads a team of ten. He recently started carving out time to mentor another new addition to the staff, Meridian shop teacher Alexis Massey.
Building with a Purpose. Building for Options.
I enjoy seeing the kids learn something new. Most of them have never even had a hammer in their hands, much less built something.
While Randy has piloted after-school woodworking and welding classes in the past, this is Meridian’s first year offering shop classes as part of the regular curriculum. Randy pitched the idea to Superintendent Jon Green by pointing out that Meridian has the equipment, so why not use it?
Even in its first year, shop class has been highly successful, with thirty to forty students attending over three courses daily. Randy says that many of the children ‘jumps right in,’ and they’ve added a Jr. High Class. While the afternoon classes had been popular, many students could not participate as they had after-school jobs.
“I enjoy seeing the kids learn something new. Most of them have never even had a hammer in their hands, much less built something. Several didn’t know how to read a tape measure when they started. Bringing Miss Massey in here and Mr. Green asking me to help makes me feel good,’ says Randy. He grins and adds, “the students are enjoying it.”
At first, a few of the kids enrolled, thinking that shop class might be an easy A or a place where they could go and sit. But he let them know, right off the bat, that they needed to adjust their expectations. Now, he shares that some kids who thought they’d coast are the first to grab their tools and get to work. He suggests that it isn’t that they’re scared of failing the course but that they enjoy doing something different, working with their hands and seeing the results of their labor.
The students learn that shop class is “more involved than people realize.” The students benefit from countless implied lessons. Although students may be actively learning topics such as woodworking, mechanics, and welding, they’re also learning subjects as diverse as math, time and resource management, and discipline. But ultimately, the class provides options.
Meridian’s shop class isn’t like the shop class I took in high school. I remember building napkin holders and birdhouses. Instead, the students are building bed frames and desks. But the students of Meridian are building with purpose, creating a desk that the teachers will use in their classrooms and beds that will be donated to kids who don’t have a bed to sleep in. As the class grows, Randy envisions building items that can be raffled off and using the money raised to purchase additional equipment.
While Miss Massey continues to work with the students on projects, Randy has a small group who plan on enrolling in Shawnee Community College’s welding program and will provide individual welding instruction. Randy shares that when it comes to welding, “we can work either of two ways. I can prepare a kid to go to school or train them to go to work. It doesn’t make me any difference; the training looks slightly different.
When Randy graduated from Meridian, he says he never dreamed he’d look back. Yet, after a lifetime of working with his hands, he finds his current profession one of the most satisfying. He also shares that if you hand him a bunch of kids with a strong work ethic and attention to detail, he can “put them to work all day, making thirty dollars per hour, putting food on the table, and providing for a family.”
There is always a purpose behind everything Randy does in the Meridian shop class. Students aren’t just building beds; they provide for their less fortunate classmates. They aren’t just learning to weld, but they’re learning a trade. While some may walk into the classroom having never used a hammer, they leave with expanded options.