© 2023 90.5 WESA
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Remake Learning focuses on Pittsburgh’s leadership in the international movement to “remake learning” and create educational opportunities designed for our times, the Pittsburgh region’s need to prepare its young people for college and the work force by building on the basics and connecting students with hands-on learning experiences that develop relevant skills.This series of reports was made possible through a grant from the Grable Foundation.

Remember Shop Class? In Beaver Falls, It's Greener Than Ever

At Beaver Falls High School, Tim Liller teaches technology education, or the class typically thought of as "shop."

Once a staple of high school education, shop class has fallen by the wayside with the decline of American manufacturing. But here, Liller's students still learn the basics, including how to wire a home and fix small engines. And more recently, they've also been learning how to make solar panels and build hydro and wind generators.

These are skills Liller hopes they can build on when they graduate.

"There are jobs out there, and I don’t know where, but I’m sure kids gain the knowledge here, and if they are interested in it they could probably find a job doing it because they have some base knowledge in how things work," Liller said. 

Beaver Falls is a typical Rust Belt town. Jobs were once plentiful at the steel mills and local factories. Now, the mills are long-shuttered. The population keeps dropping, and about 65 percent of the school districts’s children are below the federal poverty line. Job prospects are bleak.

Credit Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Technology education teacher Tim Liller points to student-built solar panels on the roof of Beaver Falls High School.

With that in mind, guidance counselor Angela Manno pushes students to pursue what she sees as up-and-coming fields. According to the Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board, 75,000 manufacturing jobs in the Pittsburgh area are held by people over the age of 45.

"A lot of your tradesman, your contractors, your electricians, your pipefitters, your welders, all of the trades, a lot of them are older," Manno said. "Because my generation, late 30s, early 40s, even into mid-40s, early 50s, nobody went for that stuff because everybody was pushed to go to college. And there was very little people who were trained to be a tradesman."

Her parents and grandparents attended Beaver Falls High School and then easily found work. That wasn’t the case when Manno graduated in 1992.

"Everyone was college, college, college — very little going into a two-year degree, very little going into apprenticeships or trades," she said. "Now I work here and I see a switch in what is actually needed in the industry."

Liller started teaching these classes when a slew of shop teachers retired a few years ago. With a grant from the Allegheny Intermediate Unit and knowing most of his students will go into the military, construction or service industries, he’s teaching them skills they can use.

"It's tough to find a good job whenever you’ve just graduated from high school, right? Its tough when that’s all you’ve got is a high school diploma," he said. 

In today’s class, Liller's students are hard at work.

"Right now, I’m cutting out magnet sizes for my replica for the actual dimensions I’m doing for my generator. He (Liller) doesn’t want us to break them or something because they’re pretty expensive," said Nicholas Droz, whose math and carpentry skills are coming in handy as he constructs an early prototype of a wind generator with his classmates.

Droz isn’t sure what he’ll do when he graduates. He thinks he might go into aviation. Before this class, he hadn’t heard much about green energy. And like his classmate, Matthew Veon, he’s excited to learn about the industry and function of alternative energy sources. 

"Just realizing we can use all different types of things to get energy instead of the things we already use now," Veon said. 

The solar panels students built last year are being tested on the roof of the school. Some of them are falling apart, some of them are holding up. Word of the solar panel project got around school, and more kids signed up for Liller’s class than in prior years.  

Because his class is an elective, he has autonomy over the curriculum and doesn’t have to think about requirements such as the Keystone exams. But at the end of the day, he’s hoping that what he teaches become job or life skills.

"Even if they’re not gonna be an electrician, being in this class, wherever they live, if the GFI trips, they know they can just go over and hit the button," he said. "They have some background knowledge. It should help them with their life, you know. If the breaker trips, they know what to do next, instead of being in a panic and calling an electrician and spending a lot of money. They might be able to fix it themselves." 

To make informed decisions, the public must receive unbiased truth.

As Southwestern Pennsylvania’s only independent public radio news and information station, we give voice to provocative ideas that foster a vibrant, informed, diverse and caring community.

WESA is primarily funded by listener contributions. Your financial support comes with no strings attached. It is free from commercial or political influence…that’s what makes WESA a free vital community resource. Your support funds important local journalism by WESA and NPR national reporters.

You give what you can, and you get news you can trust.
Please give now to continue providing fact-based journalism — a monthly gift of just $5 or $10 makes a big difference.