By LINDSAY RANDALL
Gone are the days of high-school shop class, where sawdust-coated
students sweated over lumber and wrestled with blowtorches and
electric saws. Today's high school classes are constructing with
In the technology education classroom at Hawkins High School, the
air is clean and wood-particle-free. The haphazardly constructed
wooden tables, birdhouses and stools have been replaced by long tables
and tall chairs. Piles of wood and tools are cleared out, and long
rows of gleaming computers circle the room.
And four Hawkins students are capitalizing on the knowledge they've
gleaned in this modern "shop" class to benefit foster
children. These techies, headed by teacher Bob Behnke, are
constructing 70 easels for an unusual, charitable art project called
East Texas Heart Gallery. The gallery is a touring exhibit of
photographs of foster children who are ready for adoption. Volunteer
artists have taken scores of pictures designed to represent the
child's personality and spirit. There is a grinning girl named Pavla
who shoots a basketball, while A'lexus tips her hat at the camera and
five brothers laugh and flex their muscles. Producer Denice Grugle
said in a world where 19,000 children "age-out" of adoption
eligibility every year, 70 percent of children waiting for families
are 8 years old or older in minority and sibling groups.
Ms. Grugle said the program is definitely working at raising
awareness and adoption rates, but the need is ever-present for the
children. "They want a mom and dad so bad," Ms. Grugle said.
"And they're positive, uplifted children that are really hoping
for their perfect mom and dad." Junior Zach Barrett, senior
Michael Randell, and sophomores Connor Montgomery and Aaron Norman are
working with that hope and donating their class and extracurricular
time to help.
Months ago, the gallery asked the Holly Lake Kiwanis club to donate
money to provide easels for the show, scheduled for April. Behnke, a
Kiwanis member, was immediately asked if his technology education
class could just make the easels and donate them to the project. He
agreed excitedly. "It's a real-world application that someone's
going to use to benefit someone else," Behnke said. "And as
long as they're doing something productive, I let them go." The
four boys love the class they've affectionately dubbed
"tech," and Norman teases his friend Randell by saying under
his breath, "Tech's the only place Michael feels smart."
They all laugh, and interrupt each other in their enthusiasm to
describe the inner workings of the cutting-edge techniques, software
and CNC machine they'll use to make the easels.
Barrett pulls up an image of the easel he's designed in CAD, a
drafting program, and explains that the computer sends the image,
proportions and details of the easel to the CNC machine, which looks
more like a giant, glass-encased microscope than an ultra-fast,
ultra-precise tool. "This program's really incredible,"
Barrett said. "You can pretty much do anything in there. Your car
was cut from a CNC machine." His fellow techies nod in agreement,
and list all the appliances and objects created with the very
technology that rests stolidly in their tech classroom. They show
boxes of dominoes cut from the machine, and proudly exhibit sports
team’s logos and other metal cutouts.
Next, the students carefully place the wood under the machine's
drill bit, close the door and let CNC do its magic. Within minutes,
the leg of an easel is perfectly cut out. A couple of screws and minor
assembling later, and the easel is complete. "It is slick,"
Behnke said emphatically. "If I ever want to make another easel,
I'll just pull up the easel file, load the material, turn it loose and
let it go." Behnke worked for 14 years to obtain the bulky,
expensive CNC machine, and thanked a helpful principal, Charles
Leffall, and a generous school board for the improvement to his class.
"We have birthday parties for all major equipment,"
Behnke joked. "But he (Leffall) really believes in what the
program does for kids, and so do I."
East Texas Heart Gallery will be held from noon-6 p.m. on April 9
and from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. on April 10-11. The exhibit will be at the
Tyler Woman's Building, 911 S. Broadway Ave., and there will be
entertainment, music and refreshments available. Ms. Grugel said
volunteers are still needed, and anyone interested should call (903)
Features writer Lindsay Randall can be reached at (903) 596-6284 or
by e-mail at