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Freshmen at Portola Jr./Sr. High School put in their share of work on the wood shed project for the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District. From left, Kadyn Morton, Jonathan Fish, Andrew Pfingston, Maddox Wilson and teacher Ben Harston. Photo by Julie Ruiz

Learning to build at Portola High

Portola Jr./Sr. High School students are getting hands on with carpentry tools to create wood sheds for the local Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District.

Ben Harston, an instructor at the high school for the last eight years, has taught a variety of career and technical classes from computer aided drafting to wood shop, construction, makerspace (a collaborative work space) and construction math.

“We were approached two years ago by our local Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District, Melissa Klundby and Julie Ruiz,” Harston said.

“This year the grant funding became available to build 30 sheds. My classes hope to build 15 wood sheds this year and 15 the next.” Each shed is framed out of Douglas fir and has plywood sheathing, and each holds a cord of wood.

The Air District provided the plans and funding, and the students are gaining experience and providing the labor for the project.

“The students are learning several hard and soft skills,” Harston explained. “The framing is similar to house construction. Students use the same tools, such as hammers, power saws, hand tools and drills. Students are also learning layout, methodology and sequence, as well as physical and safety skills used to build actual homes.”

The repetition of building the same structure over and over gives the students a chance to practice with the tools of the trade and to understand construction and engineering concepts, as well as learning basic plan reading.

In the soft skills department, students are engaged in learning how to work and contribute within a team setting, problem solve, anticipate, communicate and be willing to make corrections.

According to Harston, the primary goal of the project is to provide some local residents with a means to keep their wood dry, as burning wet wood creates air pollution, and raise awareness for the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management program in a tangible and meaningful way.

“I hope the students gain these trade skills as well as earning a sense of pride in the completion of a project that will be used within their own community,” Harston said.

“In the bigger environmental picture, pairing with the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District provides a great platform for discussing air pollution issues and solutions locally, nationally and internationally,” he added.

Four of the locally crafted sheds will be up for a prize drawing to be held at the Fall Burn Wise Workshop on Saturday, Nov. 23, from 2 to 4 p.m.

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