As Zach Clements arrives at Durango High School’s welding class, he slides on Carhartt coveralls over his red DHS T-shirt and hauls a heavy steel frame out of storage. With little delay, he gets to work.
Clements is welding a steel roof rack for his Jeep. He reasons he could put a tire on it or maybe haul camping equipment.
“I looked online – it was like $600,” said Clements, a sophomore. “I’m making this for $60.”
As high school classes become more laden with tests and prescribed curriculum, students in DHS’ welding classes keep doing their own thing. Students largely choose their own projects.
Sam Aber made a metal sign for his parents’ business, Durango Bike Co., using a plasma cam, which is a large cutting machine. Aber also helps build bikes at the business.
“I’m a hands-on kid,” he said.
B.J. Morgan, a senior, was fashioning a coffee table from an engine block.
“It’s cool making stuff,” he said.
At the beginning of each semester, teacher Klint Chandler spends at least a week on safety and basic equipment instruction.
“And then we start welding,” he said.
Students who take welding at DHS earn Career and Technical Education credit. Other options to earn the credit, which is required for graduation, include agricultural, business and trade and industry courses. The courses range from veterinary medicine to carpentry to sports and entertainment marketing.
“We are very proud to offer career and technical-education programs, both through our own offerings and those of Southwest Colorado Community College,” Durango School District 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger said in an email. “We take our mission seriously that all students should be prepared for whatever they choose after their pre-K-12 experience.”
Chandler has instructed DHS students in the trade for a decade. He grew up around his father’s and grandfather’s welding shop, Dave’s Welding, in Longmont.
“It’s a skill that’s always going to be around,” he said.
Beginning welders can make $50,000 a year or more. A few students who went through Chandler’s welding program went on to earn certifications in Wyoming and got work at a mine there starting at $28 an hour, Chandler said.
DHS welding students can participate in the annual Skills USA competition, too.