By BENJAMIN KIBBEY
The Western News
A year and a half in as the industrial arts teacher at Troy Middle-High School, Jeff Thill is working on safety and improvements with the help of students and the community.
Welding and fabrication students are building an eight-bench welding booth that Thill said he expects will be there when his sophomores return for their ten-year reunion.
Sophomore Brodie Gravier said he likes to think of future students using the booth.
“I just hope that they take as good of care of it as we did into building it,” he said.
The booth began as steel tubing and sheet metal, Thill said. Students have done all of the fabrication.
It wasn’t a straightforward build, he said. They had to suspend the frame and work down so the finished booth would sit even on an uneven floor.
“Probably the best thing we’ve learned on this is overcoming a problem,” Thill said.
Problem solving is at the core of skills students should take from his class, Thill said.
Pointing to the trainers in the classroom for air systems, mechanisms, electricity and hydraulics, Thill said his experience working in multiple industries gives him some perspective on the value of skills his students are learning.
“If you know these skills, these four things here, and you can do a little bit of welding and such, you’ll never be without a job,” he said.
Gravier said he has spent time in his father’s workshop since he was a small child. While he learned and still learns from his father, the classroom has shown him what to be aware of if he is performing those tasks in a workplace, he said.
In his classroom, Thill has displayed something he said his grandpa frequently told him: “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing the right way.”
“So, I’m trying to teach these kids a sense of pride and ownership,” he said. “Because if you don’t have that skill, you’re going to struggle.”
Ricki Fisher said he feels pride looking at how far they have come on the welding booth, and expects that pride will still be there when it’s completed.
“I think we’ll feel good about it with how much time we’ve put into it from the beginning of the school year all the way until now,” he said.
The students are working on other functional projects, Thill said. They made benches for the wood shop and have plans to build metal garbage bins for Troy Schools.
They are doing community projects such as picnic tables for the Bull Lake Rod and Gun Club with supplies the club is providing, he said. Right now, there are more such projects available than the class can get to.
They also have plans to create an art display for the school of 4 foot square sheet metal pieces that depict the four seasons, Thill said.
Thill said he is making an effort to update the Troy shop one section at a time. Last school year, his main effort went into the classroom and wood shop. This year he is focusing on the welding shop, and next year he expects to work on the automotive shop.
Companies from around the community have helped, Thill said. Several companies have donated new equipment, such as blue lab coats and hydraulic components from Hecla Mining. The school has also received remnant metal from Montana Machine and Fabrication.
Others, such as A-L Compressed Gas out of Spokane have donated time by plumbing gas lines for free, he said.
“It’s a huge benefit to us,” Thill said. “Less money we have to try to come up with (is) less money the taxpayers have to come up with.”
Thill said his work in mining, logging, construction and maintenance, has familiarized him with some of the donators.
“They’re trying to help make sure this place works good, anyway they can help,” he said.
Leather jackets, multiple bench and angle grinders and a lockout/tagout station were donated by Small Mine Development.
The lockout/tagout station is something Thill places importance on not just because it teaches safe habits, but because it makes the shop safer as well, he said.
When someone is working with a piece of equipment in a way that could lead to injury if the machinery started running, they can lock out the power supply so it doesn’t get accidentally turned on, according to the OSHA website. Once the equipment is locked out, only the individual who put the lock in place can remove it.
“Probably my biggest thing for every room in here is safety,” Thill said.
Thill has also been able to bring in two Troy alumni, Jeff Franke and Tyler Boswell, who work in safety with SMD to talk with the students, he said. Having someone who deals with the regulations and concerns students will face in the workingplace helps to prepare them.