Finding themselves in furniture

Foundation-funded program teaches hands-on skills.

Penn Manor’s Twilight program is designed to provide a second chance to students in grades 7-12 who have struggled in school. Their issues may involve academics, discipline or attendance.

This alternative education program is housed in the high school and is staffed by Penn Manor teachers. One of those teachers, Nick Crowther, this fall applied for a PMEF Venture Grant to fund a project he hoped would make “an impression on the students and have a ripple effect that would travel through each student’s life.”

Each fall and spring, the Penn Manor Education Foundation awards grants to teachers to enhance student learning. Since 2000, more than $600,000 has been awarded. Nick received $450 to enable each student to select a piece of furniture at a second-hand store, along with the supplies needed to restore and customize the furniture for use at home. Students chose chairs, a desk, a table, cabinets and shelving.

The objective was to provide students with the practical experience of a trip to the hardware store along with an appreciation of do-it-yourself projects that commonly occur in our adult lives.

First, students had to formulate a vision for the project and then execute the steps necessary to complete their vision. With Nick’s guidance, students learned how to properly use the tools and supplies to restore their furniture. The students were rewarded to see the physical progress on their furniture at the end of each work session. They gained comfort in the lab and developed a routine that was self-motivated.

Students asked fewer questions of their teacher as the project progressed. Instead, they were bouncing ideas off each other and asking fellow students questions about problems they were experiencing. This became one of Nick’s most memorable and rewarding experiences as a teacher.

How did the students feel? Their responses include: “I learned you can turn something junky into a piece of art.” “I pictured how good it would look in my room. I sanded my coffee table down and put mocha and ebony paint on it and then a glossy finish. Now I use it as a night table.” “I learned how to refurbish furniture and also how to manage my time.”

Should students spend valuable school time on this type of project? A recent Lancaster Newspapers article on Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology featured the top 10 STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs in Lancaster County. At the top of the list, with 1,280 openings and a starting wage of $17.47/hour, was the job of a carpenter.

Thanks to the PMEF Venture Grant, a teacher was able to provide students in need of a second chance with the opportunity to work on a project that focused on self motivation, setting goals, hands-on application of learning, time management and problem solving. By giving a piece of old furniture a second chance, they learned important skills that will certainly travel with them through their lives and might even lead to a career!

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