Hot Springs starting an FFA program for shop class

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GABBY JARVIS welding on a practice plate, last Thursday. She wants to be a veterinarian, and believes that welding could be a good backup plan, as well as a way to help pay for her school. (John Dowd/Clark Fork Valley Press)

Last Thursday, the Hot Springs welding class met, at their normal time, between 11:15 and 12:15 to practice a skill that could benefit them throughout their lives in many ways.

The welding class is not necessarily new, however what is new is the program started by Justin Wright. He came to Hot Springs last year with a degree in Agricultural Education from Montana State University.

His family was originally from Washington, however, he has grown up most of his life in Montana.

With him he also brought an idea that, since Hot Springs is such an agricultural community, why did it not have an Future Farmers of America affiliation?

FFA is a nation-wide organization committed to helping instruct and assist those working in agriculture.

It does not stop at just farming, however, and has numerous avenues to assist youth in trade jobs, including welding and mechanics.

Justin started the program, which costs no extra money to students and whose dues are paid for by the state, to help kids taking his shop classes further their education and instruction.

FFA provides scholarships and degrees for youth interested in these kinds of careers. This year was the first year Hot Springs has participated in the FFA.

Many of Justinís students participated in the Sanders County Fair, this year, under the FFA, and their first big event is coming up next month.

They will be traveling to Bozeman for the John Deere Expo. This is an event/competition where Justinís students will get their first chance to see where they stack up.

All kids who take any of Justinís shop classes, of which he has six per day, are technically affiliated with the FFA, however Justin explained that he probably has only 20 to 30 active members.

The FFA group of Hot Springs also had their regular meeting last Thursday. Justin teaches sixth through 12th grade, however, seeks to help anyone interested in shop do what specifically interests them, and is flexible in his classes.

In his welding class, specifically, Justin has about 17 students. They are of various grades and skill levels.

When students start, they are taught basic safety and trained on how to use the equipment. After that they are asked to create build-up plates. These are steel plates on which they place welds repeatedly to build up material.

This allows students to practice their technique over and over again, without wasting material. As students progress through the class they move up to welding joints, or connections.

Many times, students will also bring in personal projects. All students start with basic stick welding and may advance to other various forms of wire welding as they express interest.

Although he gives his students a lot of freedom, he does ask a lot of them. He treats class as if his students were on a real job site and must participate to get their full grade.

Along with welding and shop Justin is also the agriculture science teacher. He loves his job and particularly loves seeing the studentís eyes light up when they learn to use something that they have been practicing.

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