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Sep 13, 2019 4:07 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

New Carpentry Teacher Aims To Build Strong Program At Southampton High School

Carpentry teacher Benny Diaz works with Mateo Munoz in the shop. DANA SHAW
Sep 24, 2019 1:41 PM

Throughout his 20 years of carpentry experience, Benny Diaz knew he had a passion for teaching others the trade. He worked as a project manager for 10 years, before opening his own home improvement company with his brother, and enjoyed assuming the task of training new and inexperienced workers. So when he saw a job opening in July for a carpentry teacher position — the first listing that popped up on Indeed in his search — he applied almost immediately, despite the fact that he was running a business at the time.

“I said, ‘Oh, this is really interesting. I could teach what I love to do. What’s better?’” he said of stumbling upon the listing. “I love teaching, and I love carpentry. These are my two favorite things.”

He heard back two months later — and began his new job at Southampton High School on September 3, the day of new teacher orientation. His brother, Christian, took over full ownership of their Port Jefferson Station-based business, Beyond the Finish Inc., and was “very supportive” of the move, Mr. Diaz said.

The teaching position was for the Southampton School District’s new carpentry program at the high school, which began this school year, in partnership with Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services, or BOCES. The program was established because administrators recognized the need to provide more options other than simply college for graduating high schoolers.

The district finalized its contract with BOCES in the spring and immediately set out to find a qualified teacher as well as transform a large classroom that was used for storage space into an interactive workshop.

The program offers two elective courses through BOCES, a carpentry class and a five-subject building trades class.

In the carpentry course, which takes up a three-hour block, students are taught how to use hand and power tools to construct woodworking projects. Right now, they are building a shed, and Mr. Diaz said he envisions the finished product to be auctioned off, and the proceeds donated to a charitable cause, although those plans have not yet been finalized.

The building trades course, which has two classes this school year, teaches practical skills in five trades — carpentry, electrical, masonry, plumbing and concrete finishes — like how to unclog a sink and replace an electrical outlet.

Mr. Diaz, a resident of Port Jefferson Station, said he wants his workshop to be a fun and liberating environment for his students. He wants them to freely operate and spend very little time sitting in their seats. His lectures are short, and when they are over, he lets students select music to play on the workshop’s speakers — reserving Fridays for his music picks — while they work on projects.

“It’s not my class. This is their experience — it’s not my experience. So I want their experience to be awesome,” he said, noting that music was always played at his former jobs while employees worked.

He believes that students retain knowledge better when they are actively participating in the lessons, so that is how he structured his classes. Mr. Diaz will grade student performance only on class work and projects and will not assign any homework or give any tests.

While striving to create a fun environment, safety remains his priority. He makes sure that everyone wears proper eye and ear protection and takes other necessary precautions while working on projects.

It is only two weeks into the school year, and students are already approaching Mr. Diaz with interest in forming a club. In addition to that, some teachers have proposed collaborating on projects, like building props for school plays and floats for the homecoming parade.

“I’ve never experienced just being so happy, like, to watch these kids be creative,” he said. “It’s really, really amazing to see the ability that these kids have. I mean, I’ve known them for a week, and I feel like I’ve known them forever.”

Mr. Diaz began learning the trade at 12 years old, when he was helping a friend with miscellaneous home improvement jobs during the summer. His skill set only grew from there, creating for himself a successful career in the industry.

And that is what he wants to offer his students — the opportunity to learn the trade at a young age and decide for themselves if they want to pursue it as a career path. Like the school district, Mr. Diaz supports placing more focus on educational trade programs.

“It’s not as encouraged. I would say it’s probably easier to find a doctor on a Sunday than it is a plumber. That’s just the way it is because everybody has switched to, ‘College, college college college,’ that they’ve left this broad field,” he said.

Last Tuesday morning, seniors Atticus Jaques and Tim Kadash teamed up to saw planks of wood to the correct measurements needed for their shed project. Stretches of ’60s rock playing on the speakers were cut by the jarring sound of a power saw against wood.

“It’s the best high school class I’ve taken in my life, legitimately. There’s not a class I’ve taken that’s better than this,” Tim said. “You don’t have any freedom in any classes. Here, we can just do what we want to do and build stuff.”

The two students were already skilled in using power tools based on prior experience and said they hope to turn those skills into a career. Atticus had worked in construction for several summers and is considering becoming an electrician after he graduates. Tim’s father owns a building company and he wants to run it after his father retires, he said.

For these workshop classes, having a sufficient supply of materials is crucial. Mr. Diaz said that BOCES provided the power tools and the district provided the required supplies for each student, like utensils, tape measures and belts, along with the materials used to create the projects.

He now hopes that the supply does not run low — given that students used up a lot of the materials already in just the first two weeks.

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Put back the money from the shed to buy new materials. Sounds like to BOE has listened to the public of what is needed in our schools.
A small engine, auto mechanic and marine engine course is needed in our area. Trades people are needed on long island. Every day the crafts people sit in traffic to work out here...
As for the music, I have been next to construction sites and hear the saws etc, but the music is sometimes too loud. Remember they are there to work and there are neighbors ...more
By knitter (1938), Southampton on Sep 17, 19 1:44 PM
Didn’t he build Jay Schniedermans house on David Whites Lane?
By Draggerman (954), Southampton on Sep 17, 19 6:35 PM
They also need classes in Welding, Coding/Programming, and other high-paying "Blue-Collar" positions that have labor shortages in the US (and yes, many types of coding do not require college). Not everyone needs to go to college - that was a huge misconception from the 1950's that's carried through over the decades.

Carpentry pays better than many white collar professions, so much so that it is hard to find knowledgeable folks to teach it. They can make so much more on the open market ...more
By Funbeer (273), Southampton on Sep 24, 19 4:57 PM