Streator High’s David Taylor uses projects to teach practical vocational skills

Taylor says projects create buy-in from students

Streator High School vocational instructor David Taylor (right) explains to the Streator City Council on Tuesday, April 12, 2022, how the proposed picnic pavilion at Marilla Park in Streator would be constructed by his students.

Streator High School vocational instructor David Taylor knows the value of turning his curriculum into a community project.

“Students take pride in what they’ve created,” Taylor said.

There’s also a buy in.

“When students get to working on a project they’re excited about, they start to have fun and they are learning and don’t even know it,” he added.

Taylor will be leading his students into a sizable community project when his woodworking class takes on building a new picnic pavilion at Marilla Park in Streator. It has not received final approval just yet, but both the City Council and Streator High School Board are enthusiastic about the project.

The instructor has a history of incorporating community projects into his curriculum. His welding class created bike racks for downtown, holiday decorations for Light Up Streator and outdoor grills for Marilla Park, among other items over the years.

Three years ago, Taylor’s advanced welding class was just the second in the country and the first in the state to run its own iron pour. The students built the furnace themselves using donated equipment from companies in the area. All of the welding students, not just the advanced students, got a chance to carve a design into the iron on the sand mold.

Besides capturing students’ attention with projects, Taylor focuses on teaching his students practical skills they’ll be able to utilize in careers, some of them right out of high school. His welding students have been hired at Vactor Manufacturing, one of the city’s major employers, and the high school celebrated the moment by conducting a “signing day” similar to what athletes receive.

When his class heads to Marilla Park to build the 20 foot tall, 40 foot long picnic pavilion out of white oak, for what he calls an Amish-style barn raising, they’ll be wearing hard hats, tool belts and safety glasses.

In the second time in as many weeks, Streator High School vocational teacher David Taylor makes a presentation about the picnic pavilion his woodworking class will build for the city of Streator at Marilla Park. A scaled model is behind him. Board member Gary Wargo looks on as Taylor explains the project to the board Tuesday, April 19, 2022.

“I’ll be their foreman, and it’ll be our job site,” Taylor said. “The students will have fun with the project, but it’s a serious one. With the kind of wood we’ll be using, you can’t make a miscalculation and just go to RP Lumber and buy a new piece, we have to get it right.”

Taylor said his class, or “the job site,” has tough love.

“If you screw up, you’ll be fired,” Taylor said. “My students know that going in, but they are dedicated. They want to be there.”

" ... I have several students asking me if they can get into my woodworking class.”