By Per Peterson
Christmas came early this year for Elizabeth Johnson.
Johnson is an ag teacher at Tracy Area High School with a specialization in welding, and when she recently returned to the welding room at the school, she was thrilled to see a number of much-needed gifts that will benefit TAHS students in a big way this year and into the future.
TAHS was a $25,000 grant recipient for the America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education Program, which is sponsored by the Bayer Fund. The school was nominated by more than 20 farmers in the community. The money was used to update welding shop equipment and to incorporate STEM into more agriculture classes and common core classes, which, Johnson said, will have a significant impact on the students and community.
Johnson said she had a choice of applying for either a $10,000 or a $25,000 grant and chose the latter because “I can easily spend more than $25,000 — the shop was in major need of updates,” she said. “A lot of the welders we had were very outdated and weren’t welding metal together, and that’s the main purpose of welding. What we had just really wasn’t working.”
The school also received a $12,596 Minnesota Agricultural Education Leadership Council (MAELC) grant for other welding shop updates. The Tracy Ag Education Council also donated $10,000 toward the school’s welding shop.
With the grant money, Johnson purchased new welding screens that are used to create seven welding stations, five Rebel EMP215 multi-process welders and two Lincoln welders that do basically the same thing as the Rebels, but can also weld aluminum.
“It’s much fancier, more settings,” she said of the Lincolns, which run between $5,000-$6,000 apiece. The Rebels are about $1,500 apiece.
“I did a lot of research on the welders that I chose and I also demoed them and a bunch of different kinds of welders,” she said.
Johnson said the old welders were specific only to a certain type of metal. Most of the old welders are for sale to whoever wants them.
The school also purchased 16 new welding helmets, as well as a $5,000 wood CNC machine that can engrave wood. That machine will be shared with the wood shop.
Other grant money was used for asbestos removal in the welding room and new wiring. A central gas line will also soon be added so all of the tanks can stay in the one corner of the room, as opposed to being moved around the shop. The new line will feed all the welders.
“I’m just trying to keep everything safe and keep everything in a central location,” Johnson said.
The welding screens are portable, so students can work on larger projects if they choose.
“My main goal is to keep everything under the hood as much as possible,” Johnson said.
Each booth created by the screens is 4 feet wide, so students can watch each other.
“You can learn a lot from watching someone else weld,” said Johnson. “One kid can give another kid tips … because I can’t be in every booth every second the whole class period.”
Johnson has two year-long Welding I classes (technique, safety) with more than a dozen students in each; there is also a Welding II class where students can work on projects, and a smaller Welding III class that involves more advanced welding. She said most of the experience kids get out of welding classes is hands-on.
“We have very little classroom work,” she said. “The first month is almost all classroom work because we have to do shop safety, we learn about what’s all in metal; we learn about electrodes, how it reacts to different metal you’re working with. After that I tend to do a demonstration on Monday, then it’s mostly all hands-on.
• A Bayer Fund representative will present the ceremonial check to the school at halftime of Friday’s TMB football game, and Johnson is inviting all area farmers to the game.