Wood shop class at Newton Learning Center helps students with autism build confidence

Published: Apr. 27, 2022 at 11:40 AM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Students with autism can have a wide variety of skills, abilities and interests. And at a special education school in Reno, kids across the spectrum are using power tools and blocks of wood to build confidence.

Inside Mr. Brad Hayes’ woodshop class at the Newton Learning Center, the green group is hard at work sawing and sanding their own bread boards. Each one is as unique as their creator.

“We want skinny on this second project,” Hayes encourages the class. “These students here do better with their bread boards than my college students do.”

Hayes teaches students from approximately 3rd grade through all of high school. Each age group expands their woodworking skills project by project.

Fifteen-year-old Samuel Ryan McMahon has come a long way since his first assignment.

“I made bird houses the first thing that came in here and they were really cool,” he said. “I still have them up in my house.”

The students learn learning what each power tool does, how to be comfortable using each of them.

“What I like the most is the sliding miter saw because it cuts wood easily,” McMahon said.

Hayes says these kids really know how to make art out of wood.

“When I start speaking artistically, some of these girls just light up and go, ‘Oh yeah we could do this and that.’ And they start thinking and expanding on one idea and it’s fun to teach and see them come to life,” Hayes said.

Kaiya Hertell, 16, is one of those flourishing students who’s artistic eye has taken a shining to wood work which was actually a big reason she wanted to come to the newton learning center.

“I love doing art and I would love to do something about it instead of drawing or using paint,” she said. “And they’re like, ‘Well, this school has woodshop. Here you go.’ And I’m like yes!”

They are also becoming well-versed in the importance of paying attention and safety equipment like glasses and ear muffs.

“You can’t be messing around or goofing off,” Hertell said. “Mr. Brad has taught us a lot for the safety in woodshop and like I said, they’re really important. You do not want to ignore his warnings because then you’re going to have mistakes.”

“Some tools in here, my hands are on their hands,” Hayes said. “I wouldn’t think of any other way to do.”

And even so, he sees just how much their confidence can grow in a short amount of time.

“Newton kids are good,” Hayes smiled. “They think differently. They’re a little bit slower, but they’re so good. I love them.”

And the feeling is mutual.

“He’s a really cool teacher,” McMahon said.

“I really like Mr. Brad actually,” Hertell said.

But just to check that the feeling was genuine, KOLO 8′s Katey Roshetko asked, “Did he pay you to say that?”

“No,” Hertell said. “No bribes! If he did bribe me I would bring out the money and be like, ‘I got the money.’

April is autism awareness month. Newton Learning Center is hosting 4th Annual Newton Invitational Golf Tournament and Dinner Saturday, April 30 at the Washoe Golf Course. Check in starts at 11 a.m.; the game starts at 1 p.m. at the Washoe County Golf Course (2601 Foley Way).

Tickets are $150 for one person or $550 for a group of four. Ticket prices include the green fee, cart, range balls and dinner. And if you’re not a golfer, you can come for the food and drinks for just $50.

There will also be raffle prizes, including for the first time ever, two chances to complete the hole-in-one-challenge for $1 million!

All the money raised will go toward NLC so that they can continue to support kids with autism and provide a healthy, thriving educational environment for them to learn at their own pace. Click here for more information about how to donate.

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