At KTC manufacturing lab, students learn job skills by doing them

Products donated to schools

Richard Favreau and Jessie Ward hard at work finishing desks to donate

Tyler Senneker, a junior student in the Manufacturing Program at the Kent Transition Center, comes from a long line of tradesmen. It was at home that he first embraced his passion for hands-on learning.

“Ever since I was little, I liked to build and work with materials,” Tyler said. “It’s what I want to do forever.”

Tyler dreams of a professional trade, a dream that instructor David Albert understands on a personal level. With more than 20 years of building experience, a manufacturing business and a background in woodshop education, Albert wants to give students the opportunity to build skills before heading to employers.

The 18-month-old manufacturing lab simulates the experience of being on-the-job to help students (many with learning disabilities or special needs) get ready for an entry level manufacturing position. During each class period, participants learn the use of professional tools, communication, safety and shop floor expectations.

The curriculum focuses around community service projects throughout the year, with the current project being standing desks for fidgeting learners. All of the desks made in the classroom are then donated to schools in Kent County.

“The desks allow students to jiggle and move parts of the desks without disturbing others around them,” Albert said. “We’re getting a lot of interest in these.”

So far, students in the program have made and donated 130 wiggle-friendly desks.

“They’re not just building something and taking it apart and then putting it back together again,” Albert said. “They’re building a community service project.”

Tyler Senneker sands down his board in the lab

Using Their Products

Students also use these desks themselves. Instead of sitting in their classroom, they stand at desks they created to get used to the physical requirements of this field.

“I thought there was going to be a lot of backlash from students because they would have to stand for hours, but we haven’t had a single complaint yet,” Albert said. “They know that all of this is industry-related.”

For Tyler Jackson, junior, his learning in the classroom is already impacting his life outside.

“We learn how to fix things in the shop and then I’m able to help fix things at home because of it,” he said. “This class makes me even more excited for the mechanical field I want to join.”

Albert’s favorite part about the class is watching the teaching moments between students.

“We could go in there and teach the students how to do everything, but when students help other students, they’re learning from both showing and doing things themselves,” he said. “You can learn all about the manufacturing industry, but until you’re in the shop, hearing the noise and feel the machines, it’s not real.

“These are kids who want to be here and who want to learn,” he added. “In turn, these are the kids that we want to send off to employers.”

Now near the end of the year, students have almost finished making toy lawn mowers and baby strollers for members of the community in need.

Duane Kiley, building administrator, has noticed the progress of the new program.

“Albert is working on some really great things with these students,” Kiley said. “They are passionate and it shows.”

“They’re having a good time and learning, that’s the goal.” Albert said. “That’s why I’m here, for the kids.”

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Kent Transition Center

A 2017 graduate of Grand Valley State University and a lifelong teacher’s kid, Hannah Lentz has worked as a journalist in and outside the Grand Rapids area for more than five years. After serving as editor-in-chief at the GVSU student newspaper, Hannah interned at the Leelanau Enterprise where she learned a lot about community journalism. In addition to her work for School News Network, Hannah has worked as a freelance blogger in the furniture industry, focusing on design trends, and as a social media manager for World Medical Relief in Detroit. Read Hannah's full bio.

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