Summit High School welding teacher prepares students for the trade |

Summit High School welding teacher prepares students for the trade

Oakley Van Oss, a Spanish, welding and construction technology teacher at Summit High School, poses in the school's welding shop. The school's welding program led by Van Oss has prepared students for the trade.
Photo from Oakley Van Oss / Summit High School

For Summit High School teacher Oakley Van Oss, education is about giving students the tools to improve the world around them — literally.

In his construction technology and welding classes, Van Oss lets students take reins on various hands-on projects.

“To give kids the opportunity to have their first experience creating projects and fabricating, I feel like is just giving them this lifelong potential of making their own personal space and their own world better,” Van Oss said. “They can solve problems, fix things and create things, which is really fun.”

About five years ago, then-Principal Drew Adkins and one of the district’s maintenance workers approached Van Oss — who taught Spanish and social studies at the time — about creating a welding class for students to learn the trade.

Van Oss himself comes from a line of carpenters and has experience building and welding. Because he also teaches Spanish at the school, Van Oss offers the class as a dual-language credit. Students who choose to enroll in the dual-language class take the entire course in Spanish.

Aside from safety instructions, Van Oss doesn’t let the students speak English while they’re in the shop.

“It was last year that we started offering dual-language welding,”he said. “They haven’t had the opportunity to have more hands-on classes where they’re speaking in Spanish, using their Spanish and hearing Spanish.”

He added that the dual-language class prepares students to use Spanish on a job site one day if they pursue welding or construction.

A student works on a welding project during a class taught by Oakley Van Oss at Summit High School. Van Oss said he wants students to learn problem-solving skills that will help them in the real world.
Photo from Oakley Van Oss / Summit High School

There’s no shortage of students who have gone into the trade after taking Van Oss’ classes, either.

Oli Trowbridge graduated from the high school in 2019 and is a student at Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington, Wyoming, where he’s studying welding. He graduates in May and plans to go on to weld in his career.

“He just made (the class) super fun and enjoyable to go to,” Trowbridge said. “He made me realize that you don’t have to go to some big four-year school to do something that you like and make money.”

Miles Reid, who graduated from the high school in 2020, said Van Oss was able to create personal relationships with his students and help them achieve their goals and interests.

When Reid was in Van Oss’ class, the teacher offered to give him a 1979 Dodge Power Wagon that was no longer running. Knowing that Reid had an interest in old trucks, Van Oss told his student that he could keep the car if he was able to fix it.

“That summer I went over to his house with a U-Haul trailer and I picked that thing up and I got it running,” he said. “It cost me nothing, it was just a gift from him. He was awesome.”

Reid is now an automotive maintenance technician in the Marine Corps. He said that the skills he learned in Van Oss’ classes have helped him in his current job.

Throughout the pandemic, the program has been especially useful for students, who spend much of their time learning on the computer.

“The kids have shown a lot of resilience,” Van Oss said. “They have had it rough. It’s been difficult for them to navigate through virtual classes and Google Classroom. … When they do get shop time and they come into the shops, they are hungry to do something with their hands.”

Mark Davidson is one of Van Oss’ students who graduated in 2018. He said ability to take welding means Summit County students are helping fill workforce gaps.

“There’s a need for the trades,” Davidson said. “There’s a need for kids who want to learn how to weld and want to be in that field, construction or welding. There’s just not enough people.”

Davidson is about to graduate from the University of Northwestern Ohio, where he studied automotive technology and high-performance motor sports.

While Davidson said Van Oss was always a fun teacher to have, he also took the time to make sure that students learned the right skills to be safe and create projects that meet their goals.

“Whoever can give him support in that class, I would encourage them to,” Davidson said. “It really helped me out a lot and it made me realize what I want to do in my career field.”

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