News Local

Trades are for ladies too

By Stephen Uhler, The Daily Observer

The Renfrew County District School Board welcomed to their September meeting representatives of the Building Strong Girls summer camp program, which introduced Grade 7 and 8 female students to the skilled trades. Here, Susan Humphries, far left, the board's vice-chairwoman, and, far right, Wendy Hewitt, board chairwoman, flank Fiona Fournier, Rajyeshwa Bhattacharya, Peta Doyle - all of Renfrew - and Mauri Gonzalez, a tech teacher from Arnprior and lead teacher of the camp.

The Renfrew County District School Board welcomed to their September meeting representatives of the Building Strong Girls summer camp program, which introduced Grade 7 and 8 female students to the skilled trades. Here, Susan Humphries, far left, the board's vice-chairwoman, and, far right, Wendy Hewitt, board chairwoman, flank Fiona Fournier, Rajyeshwa Bhattacharya, Peta Doyle - all of Renfrew - and Mauri Gonzalez, a tech teacher from Arnprior and lead teacher of the camp.

A summer camp program has again proven there’s a place for women in the skilled trades.

 

During September's board meeting, the Renfrew County District School Board heard about the 2017 edition of Building Strong Girls, a two-week summer camp designed to give Grade 7 and 8 girls a taste for hands-on and technical jobs such as welding, auto mechanics, carpentry, electrician skills, plumbing and other such trades.

Participants also had the chance to meet and learn from women who work in the trades, all of whom took the time to interact with what is hoped is the next generation of tradespeople.

This is the fourth year for the program, which alternates between Pembroke's Fellowes High School and Renfrew Collegiate Institute to ensure as many students as possible in the county can access it. This year, RCI hosted the camp.

Mauri Gonzalez, Arnprior District High School technology teacher and the lead teacher in the summer program, along with three of the participants – Rajyeshwa Bhattacharya, Fiona Fournier and Peta Doyle, all from Renfrew and just entering Grade 9 – spoke to the board about their experiences.

Gonzalez said 23 students were signed up for the program, a number of them coming from Cobden and Eganville who were unable to attend last year's camp at Fellowes because it was filled up. He said he had to thank not only the tradespeople who took time off from work to meet with the girls, but Algonquin College, which supplied free transportation to its Woodriffe campus, lent the use of equipment and fed everyone each day of the camp.

“This really opens up this whole world to young women who would otherwise not know of it,” he said, adding in past years he sees a large percentage of those who attend the camp end up taking his tech courses in high school.

“They are confident, they've taken the safety class in the shop and are ahead of the boys in class,” Gonzalez said. “Many of them are seeking those careers in the technical fields.”

Bhattacharya said she enjoyed the camp, despite it taking place during the first two weeks of summer vacation.

“It was kind of a big surprise but it was so much fun,” she said, and proudly displayed a wooden frame with a light bulb and switch wired into it. “Dad was over the moon and excited that I could do work like this.”

Bhattacharya said she learned from the tradespeople it takes a lot of hard work to get into the trades. She said she will be studying to become either a doctor or engineer, but feels what she learned at camp will help with the practical side.

Fournier said she was really nervous at first as she wasn't certain she would be able to do it, but quickly started doing things she never thought she could.

“I liked working with wood,” she said, explaining she had build a birdhouse. The camp was a really good experience for her, and it was something she is glad to have had an opportunity to try it out.

Doyle said she enjoyed the hair design portion of the camp, but also had a chance to try things out like welding. She admitted she wasn't certain what to expect from the summer camp, but she is glad she took part.

Started in 2014, the Building Strong Girls program was offered for free by the school board, along with the support of the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program.

SUhler@postmedia.com