MYRTLE CREEK — Students at Coffenberry Middle School get a chance to learn how to build a gun rack, rebuild an engine, sculpt using papier-mache and put their science knowledge to practical use through a variety of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math classes.

“We want to make sure we set the kids up for success when they get out there,” Coffenberry Principal Laura Smith said. “It gives the kids a picture of what they might want to do when they get older. They find their interest a lot of the times in those activities, and then they can start kind of walking toward a career path that lines up with their interest.”

Small engine repair, woodshop and art are now taught throughout the school year, while Michelle Lind changes her hands-on science learning each quarter.

Lance Nutter started teaching small engine repair at the school last year; teaching students to fully disassemble and then reassemble a motor.

“Personally I think that we’re losing our blue-collar work ability, with technology the way it is right now,” Nutter said. “Somebody’s got to fix everything that we run.”

It’s important to him that both girls and boys attend his class and this quarter the class was evenly divided.

Nutter became interested in motors and technology when he was around the same age his students are now. He bought a motorcycle for $25 from some kids in the neighborhood and it became his project and started his interest in trying to fix things and figuring out how things work.

“We cannot be just a consumer. We have to be able to build this stuff,” Nutter said. “The thing is America still has that spirit. I keep watching Tesla, and (Elon Musk) is doing something so different and he’s scaring the car companies. Because he’s said, ‘we’re going to make electric cars happen and not only that but we’re going to build an infrastructure for them too.’

“That’s the stuff we need. We need hands-on doing, instead of just looking at a phone.”

Nutter was able to get two grants since starting the program, $3,000 last year and $1,250 this year, to help buy 18 engines and tools to repair them.

The majority of STEAM classes are offered at the schools shop building, across the parking lot from the main building.

The school district is working on better aligning the middle school courses with the high school courses, according to Smith. South Umpqua High School offers welding and woodshop through its career technical education program.

Woodshop has been the longest-running program at Coffenberry, which is taught by Dean of Students Jay Schumaker.

“It’s easier to make a connection with the kids,” Schumaker said about teaching the class in addition to his administrative duties. “They see me differently in the hallways.”

When students first come into his class, they learn the basics and can make one of four projects to start. After they’ve learned how to use each tool and completed the entry-level project, they have the freedom to create anything they’d like.

The wall of the shop was decorated with checker boards, gun racks, tables, and display cases. Schumaker said other projects have included a cellphone holder, and a feeder for a girl who showed lambs.

Matthew Griffin, a sixth grader, said, “the gun rack is my favorite project. My dad needed a place for his guns, so I decided to make him one.”

All of the STEAM classes fill up quickly and Lind said her I design class currently has 27 students.

I design is a class that covers science topics not covered in regular courses, and makes them hands-on activities for the students. Lind said it’s all based in engineering, with students having to plan, build prototypes and learn.

“I’m a nerd, I’m truly deep down inside a nerd,” Lind said. “Science is everything, it really is. The definition of science is ‘trying to understand in which you live.’ We focus so specifically on some different content and you wrap it all together, but 45 minutes only limits you to so much. I just figure I made other ways for kids to make more science and they don’t know it.”

It’s the first time she’s taught this class, but she has taught other STEAM classes — such as space and astronomy, digital photography, and video and apps — in the past.

“I didn’t know if kids would want to take this one,” Lind said. “But they seem to want in.”

Art teacher Nathan White is new to the Coffenberry staff this year.

“It’s great to have this space,” White said. “For some of them this is the only time they get to be creative and it’s not so rigidly academic.”

Students will get to complete a variety of projects in different media, such as drawing, sculpting, ceramics, etc.

Administrators at the school have been using grant money to get the programs started. The hope is to bring more stability and cohesion to the programs with the help of additional funding that will come to the school district through the Student Success Act.

Sanne Godfrey can be reached at or 541-957-4203. Follow her on Twitter @sannegodfrey.

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