Champlin grant to help expand tech ed programming at JHS


Johnston High School technical education teacher Thom Milligan wants to continue expanding his department’s already substantial programming, and the Champlin Foundation is there to lend a hand.

Johnston High was recently awarded a $48,329 grant “to equip a materials processing lab,” according to a press release. Milligan said he applied in April and was told back in November that the funding had been awarded.

Milligan said teaching trades and instructing students on basic skills – such as how to properly read a ruler – are vital, because while Google can provide some answers, it doesn’t “tell you how to use a wrench, or how to use a screwdriver.”

“All of the equipment is going to be basically manufacturing using wood products, so a woodshop kind of setup,” Milligan said of where the grant money will go. “We’re planning on adding two classes next year – manufacturing 1 and 2 – which will be, I don’t want to say it’s old school, but it’s using that medium of wood equipment and tools to learn some techniques, to solve problems, to work in teams, to follow through on a project, an activity.”

Principal Dennis Morrell and Assistant Principal Donna Pennacchia, who joined Milligan’s interview with the Sun Rise last week, lauded his work. They agreed that the applied learning he teaches is important for all students, whether they choose to pursue college or not.

“It’s great to know how to do these things anyway, even if you're going to college, it’s still nice to know that you can fix a few things yourself and learn a few things,” Pennacchia said. “It brings in math, it brings in science, it brings in all sorts of artistry. It brings in everything.”

Morrell was happy to see the funding go back to Johnston students, and noted how it would help students “who may not go the traditional route.”

“We all know that the world needs people that can do these type of things,” Morrell said. “We need people that can build homes, we need people that can do repairs, we need people that can fix your sink when it gets clogged. These are the things that we need to look at, and it fills a need for a lot of different kids.”

Those new manufacturing courses will become part of an expansive technical education curriculum, while Milligan said including robotics, two industrial design classes, architectural design and engineering technology, the last of which is offered as a college class through CCRI.

He said that industrial design I features two-dimensional drawing, while industrial design II deals more with three-dimensional work. Both incorporate computer-aided design and drafting, or CADD, to give students a hands-on experience that Milligan said is easier to modify and quicker to create.

Going back to the old-school drawing board has essentially become extinct.

“Most people will do everything on a computer,” Milligan said. “You don’t have to worry about making a million prints for everybody. Everybody can pull it up and work on it. It’s more exact.”

Architectural design, meanwhile, affords students an opportunity to design a house and put all of the main components together. While the program assists kids with putting the pieces together, Milligan emphasized that they have to lay the groundwork and understand all the components of the home.

The newest addition to Milligan’s lineup is his introduction to technical education class, which is in its inaugural year. He said it was essential to have a course that acted as a prerequisite to classes like architecture and construction, also while instructing the basics of shop safety.

“Some of the basic techniques you’d need to use to work in a lab environment, whether that lab’s a workshop or science lab where some of the safety issues are all the same,” Milligan said. “Make sure they work in a safe way, and start getting them to think outside of, ‘There’s only one answer to a question.’ Most of the stuff we do is open-ended, so I’ll give you the skills to work with materials, I’ll give you the skills to work with tools, you show me that you can create something using those tools, those skills and come up with a solution.”

Construction has also been “a big hit,” he said. There are no chairs in the classroom, allowing students to get up and active with tools in the lab. Milligan received one of the best compliments a teacher could regarding the course.

“I wish this class was longer. You don’t get that very often as a teacher,” he said. “They don’t have to sit in a seat. As a matter of fact, there are no seats. There are no chairs in the whole lab. They’ve got to work in there.”

He said the future of the technical education wing looks bright, especially with the added funding from the Champlin Foundation. His goal is to make sure every Panther is aware of what his programs have to offer, and the opportunities they afford.

“I think that’s an issue that sometimes of the 850 kids, some of them don’t know I exist, or that whole class or room exists,” Milligan said. “Once that word gets out there, it does spread pretty fast. You’re not always 100 percent sitting in your chair. You're going to get up and move … The kids like that autonomy of being able to set their own path.”


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