Teacher Education grads boost applied learning capabilities for students in Steinbach

Selkirk Regional Secondary School staff

James Gibson knows the value of hands-on education.

For one, the vice-principal of Steinbach Regional Secondary School sees his students learning by doing every day – whether they’re chiseling timber frames, installing electrical outlets or painting vehicles in some the school’s 10 vocational areas.

But Gibson (shown above, at centre) also understands how crucial it is for some students to get out from behind their desks – because he was once one of those students himself.

“I’m not a big ‘in the regular classroom’ kind of guy,” says the Red River College graduate. “I like to be up and moving around and doing things with my hands.”

RRC’s Teacher Education program allowed Gibson to do just that. Specializing in Industrial Arts, he was able to expand his knowledge and experience in woodworking and welding, among other areas. Along with the Industrial Arts diploma he received from RRC in 2004, he earned a Bachelor of Education from the University of Winnipeg in 2005, thanks to a joint program between the schools.

“The program gives you the confidence to be able to take something apart and fix it and not be scared about it anymore,” says Gibson, who was born in England and moved to Winnipeg at the age of 13.

After teaching Industrial Arts in Elie, Man., for a couple of years, he moved to Steinbach in 2007 to teach junior high. He later took at position at SRSS teaching carpentry, and more recently stepped into the administrative role of vice-principal.

Even though he’s behind a desk more often than not, Gibson can rest assured the school’s vocational students are receiving top-notch training. That’s because a majority of the hands-on instructors at SRSS are Teacher Education grads, just like him.

“Between our vocational and our industrial arts teachers, we probably have about 20 Red River College grads overall,” he says.

Five of those teachers alone have been hired in the past two years, as SRSS has recently expanded its vocational programming. Business/Technology Teacher Education grads Madison Tokar-Wolff and Kaleigh Henrikson oversee the school’s student-run store and credit union; Industrial Arts grads Mitchell Proctor and Joshua Pruden teach carpentry and automotive tech respectively; and Business/Technology grad Daniel Clement teaches web design.

With nearly half of the high school’s 1,700 students enrolled in vocational studies, having professionals on hand to teach them how to build, weld, tune, operate, paint, wire (you get the picture) correctly and safely is imperative, Gibson says.

“It’s almost impossible to offer any kind of quality programming without them. Not only is there a liability issue not to have someone trained in these areas, but having that knowledge base and the specialty training that (the teachers) come with from Red River College is invaluable.”

Having the right tools for the job also helps. The SRSS expansion in 2014 brought many of the vocational areas up to industry-level standards. Carpentry students, for example, have the supplies and space to build anything from cabinets and ready-to-move homes; the auto tech shop can hoist eight vehicles at once; the autobody shop runs paint booths; and the culinary program feeds the school every day.

“A lot of kids will say that they would have just dropped out of high school if they didn’t have these programs,” Gibson says. “If they weren’t in carpentry, the math had no relevance to them. For electrical, science has no relevance for them. So it’s huge to have these programs. It ties everything together for them and they can see the bigger picture.”

While Gibson and his fellow Teacher Ed grads are qualified to teach traditional academic courses like history and English, their specialized skills are a commodity because vocational teachers are hard to come by.

On a personal level, instructors in these areas require a great deal of patience and perseverance. Gibson credits his time at RRC for teaching him how to encourage students who might not fit the mold of traditional schooling – much like himself.

“They’re the kids I get, and they’re the kids I’m used to, so that training has served me well.”

Shown above, from left: Maddison Tokar-Wolff, Kaleigh Henrikson, James Gibson, Josh Pruden, Mitch Proctor.

— Profile by Lindsay Ward (Creative Communications, 2004)