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T-bolts "piece" together real-world project

Amidst the whir of band saws and through the haze of sawdust, Victor J. Andrew High School Woodworking students and Ultima students - classes for students with specialized learning needs - partnered together on a project in recognition of Autism Awareness Month. The woodworking project will do far more than create much-needed awareness of autism; this project builds connections between students and allows students to teach and learn from one another. 

Woodworking 2 and 3 students were paired with students from the Ultima class. Each duo picked a design - either a puzzle piece or an infinity sign - both symbols for autism awareness, cut wood into their shape, sanded smooth and painted. The wood projects will be sold to staff next month in honor of Autism Awareness Month, with the proceeds serving as seed money for future projects. 

This project came about from first-year Woodworking teacher Jeff Cassidy and colleague Shawn Nussbaum, who teaches Math & Construction. Cassidy made a template of a puzzle piece for a cutting board project when Nussbaum, who has a son with autism, reminded Cassidy that the symbol represents autism awareness, which sparked the idea of creating something for Autism Awareness month. They began brainstorming and the puzzle partnership was born. 

Cassidy said, “I hope this project helps enhance student skills - not just woodworking skills, but social-emotional and interpersonal skills of both the Woodworking and Ultima students.”

Woodworking 2 student junior Josh Evans was helping his partner junior CJ Devine sand their wood piece and said, “I think this is a really fun project. I liked showing CJ how to use the tools, and I get to see him in gym class too.” 

CJ responded with the use of an assistive device saying, thank you and that he plans to paint his piece red. 

Woodworking students help their partners run band saws, jig saws, scroll saws, routers, laser engravers, orbital sanders, drum sanders, and belt sanders. Division Chair for Special Services Cheryl Russell said, “For many of the Ultima students, this is their first chance to use power tools. What a great opportunity!”  

Ultima class fosters independence and provides students with opportunities to practice real-life skills and to build social and emotional skills. Together the students are learning cooperation, teamwork, creativity and communication. “There are so many benefits to this project. Students get to do something hands-on and be proud of their product – all in the name of raising awareness for autism,” Cassidy added.