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‘Life-long learning’: Teachers learn guitar-making to pass down to students

NEWPORT, Maine (WABI) – The teachers are becoming the students for three Saturdays at Nokomis Middle School, thanks to Integrated Technology teacher Keith Kelley.

“And the Maine Science Consortium, they gave us a grant to teacher teachers how to build guitars,” explains Kelley. “They come for three Saturdays, they get a kit and they build a guitar, and then they get a kid to build with the kid back at their school.”

The goal of the free program is to reinvigorate the excitement of technical learning, says Kelley: “What’s happened is a lot of times in my type of program, middle school, the hands-on programs are going away and the state’s pushing to have more of it back. So I was looking to create a way for the teachers to get a chance to build and do it.”

Teachers must prep and sand the wood, design it, and finally assemble their work to create a functional electric guitar.

They say getting the unique experience is a win-win for them and their students.

“I think as teachers, we can’t help wanting to do things and learn things and a lot of times, we’ll have our students doing something and really, we’re the ones who want to be going there,” says Piscataquis County Middle School science teacher Emily Anderson. “If our enthusiasm can drive them, it really benefits. So if we’re learning and excited about it, then they’re going to be excited as well.”

Fifteen teachers from across the state were present on Saturday’s introductory class. Teachers in southern Maine can also participate, as there is a Windham location as well.

With all skill levels included, teachers can try their hand at something new or revisit an old hobby or passion. While Anderson says she has never done wood-working before, Band & Chorus Director Robert Berrios from Bucksport Middle School says his experience in guitar-making preceded the program.

“We’re the purveyors for our kids, right?” Berrios explains of attending the program. “The talent that we have out there, and a lot of it is unexplored talent. A lot of kids have no idea of their innate abilities to do this stuff. For me as a teacher, receiving this training, which I can pass on to others, will be an incredible thing.”

Libby Gray is a Nokomis High School freshman who built her own guitar last year, who says she also values the ability to pass down the knowledge she’s gained.

“I enjoyed learning how to build one, how you can make it your own,” describes Gray, who holds her completed, handmade guitar. “I dipped half of it, and then I inked the other half, and I inked the neck, the head. So now that I know how to do it, I can help other people learn how to do it.”

Over the years, Kelley says the program that began to showcase the skills technical education can teach has made strides in proving the need for it in curriculums: “What I’m finding, because I’ve done this, this is the third cycle, I have teachers reaching out, realizing they can do it. Especially when they can show a product done, they say, ‘I built this.’ So what happens is they build their own, they build one with one of the kids because they have a kit already. Then when they go to the principal, they go to their community members, they can see it and they’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, let’s do more of this.’”

Kelley says this program will most likely continue next year for a new round of teachers to take part.