While the arts and many practical skills are being elbowed out of the curriculum at some schools, shop class is still a well-respected course at Westerly High School in Westerly, Rhode Island.
For over 20 years, teacher Dan McKena has found ways for his students’ construction projects to have an immediate, real-world impact.
“The joke is we’ve built every picnic table, lifeguard stand that’s located in the town of Westerly,” McKena told Fox News. “It’s just something we kind of do quietly.”
The projects help familiarize students with “basic construction techniques,” and as an added bonus, “not only are they learning to use the tools and equipment, they’re also learning how to be a part of their community,” McKena said.
It was during a meeting with student Mason Heald to hash out a plan for his senior project that McKena got an email from a local dad.
The father, Tim Killam, had been directed to McKena by a guidance counselor. Killam had a very special request, and McKena knew it would be perfect for Heald’s project.
“I looked at him,” McKena recalled. “I said, ‘You’re designing a bus stop.’”
Killam has a 5-year-old son named Ryder who was born with spina bifida and uses a wheelchair. Of course, the Westerly weather isn’t always kind, and as the days got colder Killam had to rig a makeshift bus stop for his son to try to keep him out of the cold and wet.
Back in September, Killam posted on Facebook detailing the issue.
“Ryder will be starting Kindergarten next week, and a little over a year ago pre-covid we had a concrete walkway installed to allow easy travel from his wheelchair ramp to the road to be able to board the bus,” Killam wrote.
“He is finally returning to school in person, and as we come into the fall and winter, we are hoping to find someone that may have a bus stop hut they no longer use and want to find a home for.
“Trying to find a way to keep Ryder out of the elements while waiting for the bus since the house is a distance from the road. Anyone with any leads please send a message! Thank you!”
Weeks passed, and no help came.
“Still no luck finding a bus stop hut for Ryder, put this makeshift shelter up for now,” Killam wrote in an update, showing Ryder waving from his “bus stop” made out of a large patio umbrella attached to a fencepost.
But as soon as McKena and Heald got the request, they jumped into planning.
It took Heald and 14 other students a month to wrap up the project, working quickly as the weather grew steadily colder. They had to consider legal requirements and the space needed to accommodate Ryder, his wheelchair and a parent.
According to WJAR-TV, Home Depot donated $300 worth of materials to the project and the Killams covered the rest.
Ryan Perrin, a former Westerly High School student who now runs a landscaping business, volunteered to deliver the bus stop to its new home.
When it was revealed, Killam was “blown away.” He said the design made “loading and unloading on the bus flawless.”
It is an attractive shed, featuring a heat lamp for the winter — and some kind soul also donated a heated blanket to give Ryder another layer of protection from the elements.
As a final touch, a sign was posted at the top that says “Ryder’s Bus Stop.”
“The size is perfect and because it’s [compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act], we are able to be inside with him,” Killam said. “Ryder can be anxious, so having one of us with him is so important.”
Ryder thinks the build is pretty sweet, too.
“He loves it, he actually after school makes us stay out here and hang out,” Killam said.
“The community, they’re incredible, they’ve come forward a couple of times for Ryder. It’s unreal how everyone comes together to make things work for everybody.”