An exciting after-school program that gives students hands-on experience in trades like woodworking, metal work and automotive repair has been quietly running on volunteer power for the past 17 years.
School District No. 46 trustees heard about the innovative program at the Dec. 10 board meeting, praising its content and the volunteer force that has kept it going strong.
Roy Boutilier is the founder of Cool School, a program for high school students that runs on Tuesday evenings at Elphinstone Secondary School. The program uses volunteer teachers to instruct students in metal work, automotive repair and woodworking.
Boutilier first started the program about 17 years ago at Chatelech Secondary School after Howe Sound Pulp and Paper (HSPP) stopped offering apprenticeship programs to local youth.
"All my industrial trade books were saying at the time 'we're never going to get the skilled craftsmen we need if we don't train them' so I finished up with one volunteer group and I had some spare time," Boutilier said, noting his background was in industrial construction at HSPP and he was a teacher for a time at BCIT.
He saw many students graduating on the Coast and settling for "dead end jobs."
"So I talked to them and said 'what about trades' and they didn't know," he said.
Boutilier set out to change that and soon Cool School was born, with 16 students taking part in that first year.
"We were at Chatelech for about six years. At the time our course ran Tuesday nights, Thursday nights and all day Saturday," Boutilier said.
"When we decided to move to Gibsons my health wouldn't allow me to continue teaching 16 hours a week, so we dropped to three hours a week until last year and then we boosted it up to five hours a week."
The Tuesday night course now sees 25 to 30 students who are taught skills needed to succeed in the trades, should they decide to continue in an automotive, woodworking or metal work field.
Jordy Wallace was one of the first graduates of the program and he found great success in trades, he told the school board.
"I found that when I went to BCIT, when I walked in there I already knew the first month's worth of curriculum. I just breezed through it," Wallace said. "I've got my own business now. I'm a journeyman machinist."
Cool School was funded by Boutilier for many years.
"Until two years ago, I made parts for Port Mellon and any money I made from the parts went to fund Cool School," he said. "That's where the funding came from to pay for our tools and materials and everything like this. If parents could afford to pay for materials, we asked for a donation to help cover the cost of the equipment, but it didn't matter because it was more important to get an education out of it, rather than money."
However, he noted the funding "kind of dried up when a different group took over the mill."
Community members suggested Boutilier get in touch with the community school and soon Cool School became a volunteer-driven, after-school program funded by the Gibsons and Elphinstone Community School.
"Since we joined the community school, it's taken a lot off of my back, trying to figure out how to keep this going," Boutilier said, thankful for the support of the school district.
School board chair Silas White said he was amazed at how long the program had run without school district involvement.
"This is mind blowing because right now in B.C. the big push is our trades education provincially and personalized learning, and here we've got a program that has been going on in our school district outside of the school curriculum for 20 years supporting students to personalize their learning," White said. "I think truly you are one of the unsung heroes in our school district."
Trustee Christine Young-husband said the program excited her and she asked how Boutilier gets the word out to prospective students, as she hadn't heard of Cool School before.
"We don't advertise. We find word of mouth works wonderfully," Boutilier said.
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