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Students help rebuild Almeda community

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Instructor Katie Buttermore watches Phoenix-Talent Rising Academy student Starla Mikolichek make a cut through a piece of wood to build a picnic table at Talent Maker City. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
Phoenix-Talent Rising Academy class making furniture for fire victims

“What is the longest side of the triangle?” lead instructor Piper Tamler asks the students assembled near a bench-mounted chop saw at Talent Maker City.

Most reply with “hypotenuse,” the correct answer. It’s a lead-in to use of triangles as middle school students from the Phoenix-Talent Rising Academy build furniture for residents displaced by the Almeda fire.

Students have learned to use saws, drills, air hammers and other tools, and how to figure and check measurements. After four sessions, the students have produced eight bed frames and were branching out to bookcases, benches, picnic tables, planter boxes and stairs for RVs.

The Phoenix-Talent School District operates the online academy to provide alternative, remote learning for K-8 students. The district is collaborating with TMC, which has offered a number of Rise Up and Rebuild workshops to build needed items since the fire.

Six middle school academy students are enrolled in the elective class, a pilot for offering more in-person learning. The class meets for six weeks from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursdays.

This past Thursday, the students were getting instructions on how to cut up 2-by-6s to make legs for picnic tables.

“The kids are learning so many different things — building skills, applied math, collaboration,” said Robyn Janssen, community engagement coordinator for TMC. They are also feeling a sense of purpose by contributing to the community, she added.

After the geometry quiz, Tamler explained miter cuts and compound miter cuts before saying, “Let’s build a picnic table.”

“We want all these legs to be the same size,” said instructor Katie Buttermore. “We’ll work as a team to make sure all are the same size.”

Student Andrew Avalos was the first to make a cut at the chop saw. He did well the first time, but Tamler showed him how to make an even cleaner cut.

“Down here I’m learning new tools and how to use them,” said Avalos, an eighth-grader who lives in Medford. He has worked with wood with his father but, he admitted, “measurements are all new to me.”

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Angelo Avalos makes a cut through a piece of wood for a picnic table at Talent Maker City.

Nicholas Pelleschi, an eighth-grader who lives near Talent, has experience with woodworking building items for the chickens he keeps. He turned a 4-by-8-foot sheet of plywood into chicken boxes at home.

“It’s a little different than a chicken box,” he said, as he inscribed lines on a board in preparation for making a picnic table leg.

“I’m having fun. I really love the class. It’s the best part of school,” said Talent seventh-grader Hayden Holcomb. “It’s a break from the computer, and I get to build stuff.”

Academy middle-school teacher Heather Ayers-Flood was onsite for the session to supervise and provide assessments. All the shop instruction is handled by TMC employees

“Once they start working, they are on-track and focused,” said Ayers-Flood. The students had perfect attendance until Thursday, when one called in sick with strep throat and expressed regret over missing the class.

At the end of each session, Ayers-Flood does an assessment, asking questions that may incorporate math and other elements and giving students a writing assignment on the class experience.

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Piper Tamler instructs students on using a chop saw at Talent Maker City.

“It’s a nice partnership with the school district,” said Tamler, who joined TMC full-time shortly after the Almeda fire.

In an early effort the group produced more than 50 beds. A lot more beds have been made, and TMC has also made some custom furniture pieces for displaced residents. Rotary clubs and other organizations have provided support for the furniture making, said Tamler.

“There are still families who are in transitional housing and don’t have a lot of the items that were lost in the fire,” said Janssen.

Families in need can make a request to TMC. Once the items are produced, TMC will deliver or the recipients can pick them up. Items can go to those displaced by the fire regardless of whether they are in the fire area. Most are going to families in transitional housing within the fire area, Janssen said.

The academy grew out of district efforts to offer remote learning when the pandemic emerged in spring 2020. Most of the class are online, but there is in-person contact.

Beside Ayers-Flood, there are teachers for the K-2 and 3-5 grades in the academy. Aaron Santi is principal for the unit. The academy has its own classroom located at Phoenix Elementary School. There are about 60 students currently enrolled in the academy.

Ayers-Flood is available in the classroom to assist students with English, math and other academics at set times. Because the academy is part of the school district, students are eligible to participate in extracurricular activities, including sports and clubs. Students do not have to be from the Phoenix-Talent School District.

Some students and parents are using the academy classes to supplement home-schooling efforts, said Ayers-Flood.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.