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Chassell Building Trades class contributes to community, gains skills for life

Chris Jaehnig/Daily Mining Gazette Chassell’s Building Trades class stands in front of a finished sauna headed for Chassell Beach. Members of the class standing left to right: Ethan Hupp, Daba Holmes, James Usitalo, Karl Rautiola, Gabe Torala, Devin Kilpela, Instructor-Michael Randell.

CHASSELL — The Chassell Township High School Building Trades class is keeping busy not only with in-class instruction, but also learning life experiences, with the intention of benefiting their community.

Rather than learning shop skills and making bookshelves and end tables, Michael Randell’s class is reaching out and seeing what the people of Chassell Township want built.

Building Trades does not sit idle, but has a wish list of projects they would like to get through.

“As far as projects, we have a list of things local residents would like this summer,” Randell said.

The latest project under Building Trades’ belt is a full sauna that will be going to Chassell Beach.

Chris Jaehnig/Daily Mining Gazette Michael Randell’s Building Trades class working on their next project in Chassell Township High School’s work shop.

“This is actually the second sauna,” said Randell. “We finished one up last year in the fall. We were building one when COVID-19 hit, so we’ve been playing catch up.”

Randell’s class has been working with other classes in the high school, too.

“We’re working with other classrooms like the agriscience class, building raised gardens and raised beds,” he said.

The partnerships range further than within the school.

“We’ve teamed up with the township to take down the existing play structure at the township park, and get it ready for the new stuff that’s coming in June,” Randell said.

The play structure work included taking apart the old equipment and clearing the area for the incoming structure.

The school and the township enjoys what Randell refers to as an open policy.

“We’ve worked with the township on other projects, also. So it’s kind of an open policy; we get different projects that we’ll go along for, we’ll help them out with them, which is great for kids. That community outreach is great,” he said.

The Building Trades students get more than an in-class experience.

“It’s just great life skills for the students,” said Randell. “We’ve worked with the VFW on different projects. I kind of like to have the kids get in front of it. They contact the people, and also the kids will do the design work, too. So we’ll try on CAD (computer-aided design and drafting) or some sort of software program. You know, do a takeoff of materials, how much it’s going to cost and then present that to the township or VFW. So it’s kind of just a close-knit community here, which has the school and our class working with those different organizations.”

The skills learned by the Building Trades class go beyond high school transcripts.

“Over the years we’ve had kids that are recognized by these different organizations, and a lot of the time will acquire scholarships when they become seniors,” said Randell. “The other thing is just the life skills and the networking, and getting to know your local businesses that have been treated well, and are partnering with us for these projects.”

All of the projects are completed during school hours and students are not obligated to give personal time, but some choose to.

“This is all during class time,” Randell said. “With some of these projects, we’ve worked with the Chassell Trails Association, and we built a bridge for them, and that was under the Portage Health Foundation last fall. With that, some of the students showed up afterwards and worked with community members to finish the project.”

Outside of team building with just their classmates, students are learning to cooperate with community organizations through hard work.

“Often, those organizations have their members present, so they’ll have their director there or someone there to direct us,” said Randell. “I’m there because I need to be there as their teacher. It’s great that the kids are working 1-on-1 with the people there. That’s what I try to do; get it off of me and put that leadership in the students. Those are just sweet life skills.”

Skills learned in the class are not just learning how to use tools, but how to be team players and organizers.

“No one wants to step up at first but you know, that’s a practice in itself,” Randell said. “That’s a skill in itself; to put yourself out there and present yourself, to introduce yourself. Just introducing yourself is such a skill.

“A lot of them haven’t had to do that yet. The skills they get from this, aside from the construction itself, and the skills learned in the construction industry are skills that they’ll use forever.”

The open policy class work has been a continuous experiment for some time now.

“We’re in our fourth year with this program,” said Randell. “Community outreach has kind of been our goal, but we do our basic shop skills here in the school shop.”

Randell mentioned new CTE standards coming this year, focusing on student leadership, and his class is modeled for that.

“Their focus is on student leadership, getting them in front of the public,” he said. “It’s great for our program because it gets our name out there. Before you did these projects as a high school class when no one knew what we were doing, but now when we get out in front of these different organizations we’ve worked with like the township and the VFW, they know that, the community know that these kids are doing something, these students are benefiting the community. They’re working with others, so it’s great.”

A personal attribute Building Trades students can expect to gain is confidence.

“A lot of the kids start with a lack of confidence, but build up confidence by meeting the real world and putting yourself in that position where you’re asking the right questions and working with others and not just your classmates,” Randell said.

Chassell senior Jimmy Usitalo has been Randell’s class the whole year and listed a number of projects he has been a part of, and skills he’s learned so far.

“We’ve done two saunas for the Chassell beach so far. We’ve been doing random fix-up projects for the school. What we’ve been doing includes framing, siding, wiring, insulation, roofing, pretty much everything.”

Usitalo briefly spoke on the communication aspect of the class as well, which is not an impossible task for him.

“We’ve been in direct contact with Chassell township for a number of things, mostly. It’s not that hard, really. You have to know what you’re doing; you don’t want to make any mistakes, obviously.”

Chassell junior Karl Rautiola expressed having a positive experience with Building Trades.

“I’ve had a lot of fun just building things. If I ever wanted to build or work on a house later on, it could really help with that. It’s just been such a fun class, and Mr. Randell is a great teacher. We all get along really well, so it’s usually a good time.”

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