AMBOY, Ill. — When Amboy High School ag and welding teacher Deanna Drew says “they are so excited,” in reference to her students, she’s not referring to their impending holiday break.

What the students are excited for is, actually, a class. Their welding class, to be precise.

At the end of the first semester, the welding program at Amboy High School is at the top of its game and ready to go for students.

The program has come a long way in just a few months, thanks to the efforts of Drew and local and national donations.

“In college, they told us pick one program to fix versus trying to do a little bit of everything. So, I said I will take the shop under my wing and get that developed and up to where I want it to be,” Drew said.

At the start of the first semester, back in September, it seemed like everything needed done.

“My goal, by the end of the year, is to have eight welding booths set up in the shop that will have multiprocessing machines that can do stick, MIG and TIG welding,” Drew said back in late September.

She had just accepted, during an Amboy High School football game halftime, a $10,000 check from the Monsanto Foundation’s American’s Farmers Grow Rural Education grant program.

That money was used to refurbish the ag shop’s outdated ventilation system for the welding area.

‘A Slight Mess’

“The welding program I inherited was a slight mess. We had outdated helmets, we didn’t have welding jackets, the kids were welding in flannels,” Drew said.

For Drew, safety is a priority and making sure that students were properly outfitted when welding is one safety issue that hit close to home.

“My grandpa was diagnosed with skin cancer and they said it was from welding,” she said.

A donation from the Amboy Depot Days Car Show Committee took care of that.

“We have a classroom set, 20 jackets, helmets and sets of gloves, of welding clothing. The kids have a jacket, gloves and a helmet that they can wear at all times vs. having to share helmets,” Drew said.

The next step was to refurbish the shop’s vintage ventilation system.

“The ventilation did not work at all, so we had to have the garage doors open when we were welding. The garage doors leaked, so there was sometimes water in the booths,” Drew said.

The Monsanto grant fixed the ventilation, so now there are eight ventilated welding booths.

Using money from class fundraisers – including selling donated mums, a Tupperware fundraiser and incentive money from the state of Illinois, as well as other fundraisers – Drew was able to purchase eight Lincoln welders.

“The new welders are a lot more user-friendly and the do a lot more,” Drew said.

A donation from Harbor Freight financed the purchase of eight carts for the welders.

The refurbished welding shop will be put to good use. Drew had the enviable problem of having too many students signed up for welding, at the start of the 2018-19 school year.

“I looked at my roster before school started and there were over 27 kids enrolled for welding. I had 30 enrolled for ag mechanics. I had to cut some of them, unfortunately, because there’s no way one person can safely work with all of those students and keep an eye on everything. Plus, with the size of my classroom, which has a capacity of 16, it would be very close quarters,” Drew said.

Advanced Welding

For the 2019-2020 school year, she’s planning to offer advanced welding, as well as the beginning welding class.

Welding is popular among students from all backgrounds at Amboy.

“This year, I can count on one hand the true farm, rural kids, the kids who are from a farm or who live on the farm,” Drew said.

The welding class draws students who are interested in a class that is hands-on, Drew said, and out of the classroom and lecture routine.

“Most of them come to welding because, hey, this is something different, something cool to do, hands on, not a textbook class,” Drew said.

For many students, taking the class heightens awareness of all the career opportunities, many of them in the immediate area, where they can put welding skills to use.

“I think there are kids who, now that they know ‘hey, I can do this,’ realize all the careers, right around here, that they can go right into, either right from high school or if they go to Sauk for an associate degree,” Drew said.

Only one thing remains to bring the new and improved welding area at Amboy High School to life.

“We are just waiting on the electrician to add all the power and then we will be good to go. The kids are so excited,” Drew said.

Jeannine Otto can be reached at 815-223-2558, ext. 211, or jotto@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @AgNews_Otto.

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