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Wood Shop Builds School Pride

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NIXON, Nev. - As the finishing touches were added to the school's new
trophy case in the northern wing, the classrooms adjacent to its location
will be undergoing their own makeover in the coming year.

Pyramid Lake High School, on the reservation of the same name, is in. the
midst of rejuvenating a spirit, both within the institution and in the
community. Evident upon walking through the relatively new facility, pride
emanates from the students and staff.

Recently a surge in pride was provided by the varsity boys and girls
basketball teams that advanced to the final four in their state categories.

Until this semester those plaques earned would have been stored away, often
out of public sight, joining others dating back a quarter-century that were
collecting dust. Following the dedication ceremony of the trophy case in
early March, the school has a highly-visible showpiece for honoring its
athletic and academic accomplishments.

"What you will be able to tell your kids 10 years from now is that you were
a part of building this," said Chris Clayton, the first year wood shop
instructor, as glass shelves were installed.

The driving force behind this endeavor, Clayton brought her energy as a
general contractor to Pyramid Lake and treated those involved with the
trophy case as crew members, not just students. She said most of the kids
in this nine-week project had limited knowledge in industrial arts or how
to use the tools before the semester started.

Measuring six feet in height and 21'6" in length, this undertaking gives
credence for next year when the students will have the space to create
larger projects. Like one-room homes.

Basketball success and the new trophy cases were the noticeable highlights
during the late winter months but good things are in store in store next
fall for the kids in the technical programs which quietly received
financial approval. A $65,000 grant will purchase, install and equip a
prefabricated self-contained metal classroom measuring 2,000 square feet
that will be separate from the school's main building.

Principal Randy Melendez, who returned to his reservation to run the
school, is excited about what this expansion offers. The added space would
permit auto body repairs, painting and maintenance that will give his
students marketable skills.

"What I want them to learn is basic car repairs, like oil changes, so these
kids can get a job right away," he said, noting most jobs are off the
reservation in Reno, 45 miles to the south.

Melendez beamed about the opportunities this school offers the reservation
since it opened four years ago. The principal noted that within recent
memory the school's enrolment at the old high school dwindled below 20.
Besides the aesthetics of a sharp-looking building, the programs offered
that started with incentives of athletics and is branching into the
academics, has the student population at a vibrant 125 with kids busing in
from as far as Reno.

A strong program in the trades is vital to the success of a school on
reservation Melendez believes, because for the majority of students
post-secondary education is not a strong reality. Also, auto and wood shop,
like athletics, are those carrots that stimulate an interest for those who
might not otherwise attend school just for academics.

"We're trying to keep them here because this school is for them. For Indian
kids the vocations are important that if they don't go to college, they can
still work or go to trade schools," Melendez said.

In the present metal shop, a decade-old beater covered in epoxy sits beside
a torn apart and thoroughly examined engine that's seen better days. This
section of the room, in conjunction with the hydraulic lift, takes up the
majority of space where Jim Copeland teaches his classes. In the remaining
area, welding tables are filled with bicycle frames that are the continuous
projects of students whose goal is to emulate the designer bike hanging
from the ceiling.

Within these conditions, Copeland said certain hazards exist that will be
eliminated with the new auto shop. Noxious gases, though not lethal or
toxic, created by the use of welding tools can pose a problem.

"There's supposed to be a hood (overhead) to suck the gases out and the
side panels will block the (blue powerful) light out from other people,"
said Copeland.

With the location of the metal shop building, its isolation can also
facilitate the use of environmentally-unfriendly products that are
associated with automobiles. The disposal of oil and the use of paint
products which couldn't occur in the main building will be easily
safeguarded and controlled.

The new metal shop will also create more space inside the school. Once the
present auto equipment is moved, an entire room next to the wood shop will
be vacant.

This space will house construction sciences and this is where Clayton's
contracting abilities will be fully maximized. Goals include teaching the
kids the ability to design, construct and wire a one-room home with
plumbing, a challenge the wood shop teacher will relish.

The trophy case, an entertainment unit and other smaller items, have become
the building blocks to take on bigger projects. Ultimately, in addition to
giving the students at Pyramid Lake job-ready skills, the wood and auto
classes provide another venue for self-esteem.

"With all of this, we're trying to take the mindset of 'It's broken, it's
like that forever' and change that to 'I can fix it because I'm
well-trained,'" Clayton said.