It isn’t unusual for a member of the Popular Woodworking Magazine staff to spend vacation time to attend a woodworking class. Usually I go to teach, but last week I found myself in Montana learning at the Chidwick School of Fine Woodworking in Stevensville, Montana. I was there on my own dime to meet Dean Mattson and to see the top five students from his woodworking program at North Salem High School in Salem, Oregon. I did learn a thing or two about woodworking, (especially grain selection from Christopher Harding) but most of my time was spent learning how the top high school woodworking program in the country takes kids from the worst circumstances and gives them what they need to land good jobs in the woodworking industry. Mattson does such a good job that employers are lining up for the opportunity to hire his students.
One interesting thing about the week was the amount of attention it received. Several members of the online woodworking community and suppliers dropped in for online visits and Todd Clippinger drove over from Billings to share his work with the class. As I took pictures throughout the week, I kept seeing more cameras and more people arriving to see what was going on. Local TV station KPAX came by (you can watch the video segment by clicking here) as did the local newspaper “The Missoulian” (you can read the front page story by clicking here).
Mattson came to teaching after years in the business world, and schools across the country are anxious to apply his methods to their programs. In 2013 he was named “Teacher of the Year” by the WMIA, and this year he challenged the woodworking industry to support a national training center. If that comes about, stories about employers waiting in line to hire recent high school graduates won’t be unusual. That would be a good thing. My thanks to Dean and Andy and the kids from North Salem. It was the best vacation I ever had.
You can read more about Dean Mattson and his vision for the future at my personal blog.