Two students in Halifax County High School’s WoodLINKS, USA dual enrollment program are headed to Las Vegas to compete in the Association of Woodworking and Furnishings Suppliers (AWFS) Fresh Wood Student Competition. Recent high school graduates John Barry and McKenzie Stevens will be representing the WoodLINKS program as they compete against high school students from across the United States.

Woodlinks students goin to national competition in VegasThe HCPS WoodLINKS site is the first in Virginia, and the 2008-2009 school year was its pilot year. Right out of the gate, the program’s students developed and built an original chair that has been juried into the national AWFS Fresh Wood Student Competition. “The competition only selects a handful of applicants in the whole nation to compete. Applicants have to be juried in, and we were chosen out of 165 entries for class projects,” said Clint Johnson, WoodLINKS Instructor.

“It’s an honor to be chosen in only our pilot year,” Johnson continued. “We owe a huge thanks to Halifax County Schools and School Board members for allowing the WoodLINKS program into the curriculum. I also have to thank Mr. Warren Penick for co-teaching, Mr. Albert Randolph for his support and for allowing us to use the school’s woodworking lab, and Dr. Mel Stanley for her tremendous hard work and continued support of the program,” he said.

The student’s contest entry, affectionately called “The Chair,” is a beautiful work of art with a cherry-like finish. When asked to describe it, the words modern, contemporary, and futuristic are often used. Johnson describes the chair as a play on the Queen Anne Side Chair. “When you look at drawings chair Woodlinks students entered into competitionof the evolution of the Queen Anne Side Chair you see the backrest becoming a separate entity and the legs becoming more curved through the years. Our chair fits in with the established style but with our own twist,” he said. That twist is what earned the student’s a place in the Fresh Wood Competition and will bring national and international attention to the Halifax County program.

“When I got the phone call telling me we were going to Las Vegas it was like winning a million dollar lottery,” said student John Barry. “It’s the most amazing feeling I’ve ever had.” But more than being an exciting trip, the competition and the WoodLINKS class has been life changing for Barry and classmate McKenzie Stevens. “Before this class I had a completely different career planned. I was going to work with wildlife conservation and go to college in Alaska. I had a plan, but these guys changed it up a whole lot for me—and I’m glad they did,” said Barry. Classmate Stevens was at the opposite end of that spectrum, “I never had a plan,” he said. “This class is the only thing I really worked towards and got into.” What started as a simple class has developed into a passion for him. “I really enjoy working on wood and making custom furniture. I want to go as far as this will take me,” he said.

WoodLINKS/Product Design & Development Instructor Kevin Chrystie had nothing but praise for the students, “Having the opportunity to teach students that have such a keen desire to learn this craft, and the discipline that accompanies it, is really quite rewarding. There is also a great responsibility that accompanies having such a positive influence on someone else’s life; it keeps us humble and on our toes.”

The AWFS Fresh Wood Student Competition is the largest of its kind, and highlights outstanding construction and design achievements by students. Students must complete a rigorous application process and be selected by a jury to earn a place at the annual competition. “We owe a lot of thanks to Blakely Swanson for helping us with our submission materials,” said Johnson. Swanson, local photographer and owner of Images by Swanson, generously donated his time and expert services to help the students make the application deadline. “He allowed us to come into his studio with very short notice. He took beautiful pictures, and then generously gave us all of the prints we needed,” said Johnson. “He never hesitated when we asked, and when we tried to pay him he wouldn’t hear of it. We’re so appreciative of what Mr. Swanson has done for us. It shows the strong community interest and involvement we have,” he said.

For Swanson, this was an opportunity to support the program he believes in. “When I first saw the chair it hadn’t been assembled—it was just in pieces—but I could tell it took a lot of talent and dedication,” said Swanson. “It makes me feel good to see kids applying themselves and making something worthwhile. I’m proud of what they’re doing and I’m happy to be supportive.”

John Barry and McKenzie Stevens will travel to Las Vegas July 15-18 with their WoodLINKS instructors, Clint Johnson and Kevin Chrystie. “We’re all thrilled,” said Barry. “I’m amazed at the recognition we’ve received already.” Barry and Stevens graduated from Halifax County High School in May, and will continue their training by enrolling in the Product Design and Development curriculum at the SVHEC this fall. The WoodLINKS high school dual enrollment program focuses on Product Design and Development, and is the first step in an eventual Associate’s degree in Product Design and Development to be offered at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center. Acceptance to the AWFS Fresh Wood Competition is an early sign of the strong program that has been developed.

For more information about the WoodLINKS dual enrollment program or the SVHEC Product Design & Development program call 434-572-5440, toll free 1-800-283-0098 or email