St. Helens teacher instills 'do-it-yourself' skills
Bonnie Adams, a manufacturing program teacher at St. Helens High School, grew up knowing how to tackle problems ranging from fixing a car to rebuilding a boat engine.
These skills, learned at a younger age, inspire Adams to give her students “do-it-yourself” abilities they can use throughout life.
Adams teaches three levels of metals at the high school, including hand tools, tools and different types of welding.
“For the basic program, most of the kids are either going to go on to do some sort of welding or some sort of local manufacture,” Adams said, noting, “I also teach a class called Rapid Manufacturing, which is somewhat like a Makerspace on steroids.”
Adams has been teaching in the manufacturing program at St. Helens High for 10 years. Before that, she spent a few years subbing in both Scappoose and St. Helens.
Growing up, Adams didn’t think she had the chops to be a teacher.
“I never thought of being a teacher,” she said. “I didn’t think I was smart enough to be a teacher.”
Yet, after being involved in different Scouting programs, Adams discovered she could teach skills she had already learned.
“Every little job I ever had, I always ended up being the trainer for new people who came in,” she said, noting that some of her inspiration came from her father.
“My father was a firm believer that my sister and I should know how to do everything the boys could do,” Adams said. “My dad made sure we knew how to work on our own cars. … A lot of the skills that I took to become this teacher were things that I learned through the years starting with my dad.”
Even as a child, she had to help with sheet rock, plumbing and electrical tasks when the family built a new house, Adams remembers.
She got mechanical experience from a program called Sea Scouting as well.
“We had to work on and rebuild the engine for our boat,” Adams recalled.
Adams gets satisfaction teaching life skills to her students.
“As they become more skilled, and they mature, I actually end up treating them more like a colleague than a student,” she said. “In my program, if you can behave like a colleague, you get treated like one, which means you get more responsibility. In some ways, you do get to learn more because you have more opportunities.”
Adams said getting into the trades can be a great career move for her students, with good income potential.
“There have been so many people who have already retired from this industry in the last five years that there are jobs everywhere,” she added.
Adams continued, “They really do want people who have a little bit of education in those areas, and also have basic jobs skills. I do a lot of what are called ‘soft skills,’ as well, because that’s what’s going to get you the job and help keep the job.”
She said starting wages are better than average.
“Especially in the trades programs, you can move up very quickly by showing your skill level, by studying and adding to the skill level that you’re at,” Adams said.
Yet students not intending to enter the trades can still learn the skills Adams teaches.
“Even in building your own home, maintaining your own home, or maintaining your own car — these are all skills that, regardless of what kind of job you get, will benefit you in the long run,” she said.
Asked what she likes most about inspiring her students, Adams said, “When you know that you’ve helped somebody discover something new about themselves, and have helped them understand that they should be always striving for self-learning.”