End of Wood Shop Classes? Many Schools Revamping Industrial Arts Programs

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Byline: Madhu Krishnamurthy Daily Herald Staff Writer

Keyboards are replacing saws and sanders in industrial arts classrooms as area high schools cope with new technology and teacher shortages.

Like auto mechanics classes before them, traditional wood and metal shop programs are dwindling as the trend shifts to computer- simulated courses.

Lake Zurich is the latest to follow the trend. School officials canceled wood shop next year and are revamping the industrial arts program to integrate computer-assisted design and drafting.

Officials say there is no room for the woods program, despite a the newly expanded facility. The metal shop was axed this year because the school could not find a teacher, even after a nationwide search.

"Industry has evolved and changed over the years," Lake Zurich High School Assistant Principal Kent Nightlinger said. "With industrial tech, it's become harder and harder every year to find people to teach in those areas."

Administrators say they hope to bring back the woods class for the 2004-05 academic year and run it out of Middle School North. The building will be vacant once students move to a new middle school being built in Hawthorn Woods.

Most high schools have limited or eliminated woods and metals courses, citing industry trends. For example, neighboring Stevenson in Lincolnshire never had a woods course, and Wauconda eliminated its woodworking and cabinet-making program nearly 15 years ago.

Instead, many schools send students to Lake County High Schools Technology Campus in Grayslake. The 26-year-old institution was created solely to pick up courses no longer offered at individual schools. Nearly 1,600 students are enrolled there.

"That was the original mission," said Julie Riddel, assistant director for instruction and curriculum at the tech campus. "To consolidate those higher-end programs into one building so that resources don't get duplicated all over the county."

Tighter budgets and dwindling state and federal funding have forced many schools to choose between core curriculum and elective courses, she said.

The tech campus is an extension of all 21 county high schools. Member schools pay about $2,000 per student to use facilities during the school day.

Automotive technology is the most popular course, with 300 students. There has also been a rise in students taking woods in the last two years, Riddel said.

About 100 students are enrolled in building trades, which includes wood shop. Enrollment has started for next year, but only seven of Lake Zurich High's 100 woods students have signed up so far.

Freshman Zachary Garrison is not one of them. The 15-year-old is disappointed the class will not be available on campus.

"I liked wood shop, so I'm not happy that we're not going to have it," he said. "I wanted to just keep building new stuff for my room and for gifts."

Although Garrison took the class for only one semester, he said he learned a lot. …