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Canoe building class at high school in Boulder helps students learn skills—for the trades and for life

Canoe class at Jefferson High School
Posted at 2:03 PM, Feb 06, 2024

BOULDER — In a day and age when almost anything is at your fingertips and ready to be purchased and shipped to your door within days, students at Jefferson High School are learning to make a canoe with their hands. They say that these carpentry skills are going to help them with career opportunities in the future.

The process is a months-long endeavor that began at a sawmill several hundred miles away and includes a tree harvested from a front yard in Kalispell and another perfect cedar tree that has no knots.

"I think it’s important for anybody to just get out there and do this kind of hard work and do stuff that’s hands-on and just get out there and try to build something yourself," says Piper Pierce.

Pierce was selected to attend the national SkillsUSA competition in Georgia last year for her prowess in architectural drafting. She thinks her participation in the woodworking class and other trade classes at Jefferson High School will help her achieve her future goal of becoming an architect.

She is one of eight kids learning to build a canoe.

"Canoe building just sounded really fun, like it’s really special to be able to see something that you’ve worked really hard on and use it in the future such as a canoe," says Cannon Laliberty.

And working with his hands is something that is really important to Laliberty.

"I really enjoy it. I’m kind of a hands-on learner," he says.

Last year Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a series of Career and Technical Education bills into law with the goal of supporting work-based learning opportunities for Montana students.

"We need people, we need welders, we need machinists we need plumbers, we need electricians. CTE is all about exposing the students to these various career options while they're still in high school so they can make a better choice for themselves," says Gianforte.

And while the canoe building class helps students learn a bit more about carpentry, it’s also giving them a lesson about using their own hands to build something from nothing.

"If you just order it online, then you don’t have that special connection between you and your canoe. It’s cool. It’s sentimental value," says Laliberty.

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