WATSONVILLE — A Watsonville High School graduate who made a life and career out of metalwork – and who learned the trade at the school – has returned to reincarnate the program.

A little more than four decades ago, Don Houseman was a WHS student whose passion for metalwork – and for being in the school’s metal shop – trumped much of his other school activities.

“I spent a lot of time in this shop,” he said, gesturing to the dozens of machines in the giant room. “I used to cut classes so I could come here.”

Houseman graduated in 1975 and made a life and a career of metalwork. He founded Mercury Metals, a longstanding Watsonville business. He retired in 2003.
During Houseman’s time at the school, he said as many as 25 students could be found in the shop for every period of the school day, where they learned to use the machines, shape metal and weld.

Since then, increasing focus by school districts on college readiness – and declining revenues – have forced elective classes such as vocational, arts and music to the wayside at schools nationwide.

The program eventually ended, and the metal shop and equipment languished for years.

Now, Houseman is bringing the shop back as an after-school program. He is volunteering his time, along with two other industry professionals.

“This is my life,” Houseman said. “It’s what I’ve done since 1975. I’m lucky I made a great living, and now I can give back.”

“The only thing I get out of this is satisfaction,” he added.

The trio has brought in some of their own equipment, but plan to use the existing machines after making the necessary repairs.

That task, and that of cleaning the shop and getting it back into working order, has become the first lesson for the inaugural class. One of their first tasks was to clear away decades of accumulated junk, Houseman said.

The $15,000 it has taken to do all of this comes from the California Career Technical Education Incentive Grant program, which was established by the California Department of Education to create and maintain vocational programs.

While most of that grant went to the school’s agricultural education program, there was some left over for metal shop, said assistant principal Michael Mansfield, who has been working with Houseman in re-launching the program.

Mansfield said he hopes the program can eventually transcend its after-school status and become a part of the school’s daytime offerings. He also hopes to offer school credit for the program.

Mansfield said the metal shop could offer students a valid career path immediately after graduation.

“How many careers are kids ready for out of high school?” he said.

Watsonville High School junior Martin Lopez said his interest in engineering led him to try out the metal shop two weeks ago.

“What we were doing in engineering wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be,” he said. “So I really like the hands-on part of the metal class. It kind of gives me ideas about a career in metal work.”

Samantha Rocha, also a junior, said she wanted to break the gender barriers typical to the metal working field.

“You don’t see many women in this field so I wanted to prove to myself and to my family that women can do this kind of work — it’s important,” she said. “I can definitely see it as a possible career. I’m really interested in architectural design and I can totally see this metal work as being a part of that.”

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