Program Wins Honors in Its Very First Year

chair designed by John Barry and McKenzie StevensIt was a gamble that paid off. Last fall, when the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center (SVHEC) partnered with Halifax County High School to bring the WoodLINKS, USA program to the county, it was part innovation and part experiment. Could new teachers be successful with a new curriculum with students who’d never experienced anything like it before? Ten months later with a class project that is a work of art and a first place finish in a national competition, there is no doubt that the bet on WoodLINKS was the right move.

July 14-18, recent high school graduates John Barry and McKenzie Stevens travelled to Las Vegas with their WoodLINKS instructors, Clint Johnson and Kevin Chrystie to compete in the Association of Woodworking and Furnishings Suppliers (AWFS) Fresh Wood Student Competition.

The competition is the largest of its kind, and highlights outstanding construction and design achievements by students. The competition was stiff as the HCHS students competed against students from across the United States. But it was Barry & Stevens who came out on top, winning first place honors in the High School Class Project category. “It was the best feeling I ever had in my entire life. Ever. Nothing else even comes close,” said John Barry. “I have to agree with John,” said Barry’s partner in the class project, McKenzie Stevens. “When we heard our names called I was overwhelmed with happiness. It was an emotional day,” he said.

The awards for the Fresh Wood Student Competition were handed out at the AWFS Awards Dinner that included leaders and CEO’s in the wood industry. “After the awards were handed out,” recalls instructor Kevin Chrystie, “there were many people that came by and  congratulated both John and McKenzie on their achievement. It was really wonderful to be there to witness their future unfold before their eyes. “I can’t express how proud we are of them,” said WoodLINKS instructor Clint Johnson. “To see your students have an achievement like this is a great feeling for an instructor and really positive for the program itself,” he said. For their part, the students credit their WoodLINKS instructors for making their success possible.

WoodLINKS Students Win 1st Place at Las Vegas Competition“If they hadn’t worked with us I don’t think I would’ve succeeded or even been in the class,” said McKenzie. “Our instructors deserve a lot of the credit. They had a real big influence on us,” said Barry. “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,” he continued. The students’ contest entry, “The Chair: A Vehicle for Collaborative Learning,” is a beautiful originally designed chair that is a modern take on the Queen Anne Side Chair. “When you look at drawings of 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,” said WoodLINKS instructor Clint Johnson. “Our chair fits in with the established style but with our own twist,” he said. That twist is what earned the student’s top honors in the Fresh Wood Competition and is bringing national attention to the Halifax County program.

Paul Stapleton, Superintendent of Halifax County Public Schools, had words of praise for the students and the collaboration that made WoodLINKS possible. “On behalf of the Halifax County School Board, I would like to congratulate John Barry and McKenzie Stevens for representing our Halifax County High School WoodLINKS program and winning first place with their creative and innovative piece of furniture, ‘The Chair.’ Our high school Building Trades instructor Warren Penick was pleased to share his shop area and work collaboratively with Clint Johnson, Kevin Chrystie, and David Kenealy over the course of this past year in the design and development of ‘The Chair.’ Under the direction of these four instructors, a class of high school students have successfully implemented the WoodLINKS concept and received dual enrollment college credit through Danville Community College. The amazing success of this first‐year program is a direct result of a collaborative partnership with Advancing the region by developing educational partnerships and opportunities the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, Danville Community College, Virginia Tech, WoodLINKS, Inc., and Halifax County Public Schools,” he said.

Students work in the Business of Art & Design WoodLINKS labThe chair is described as a vehicle for collaborative learning because of its cross-curriculum nature and the opportunities it offers for students to incorporate multiple skills into one project. “This was a collaborative learning adventure. This is a cross‐curriculum process that incorporates engineering, problem solving, English skills and more,” said Dr. Melanie Stanley, Director of Academics for Halifax County Public Schools. Already the WoodLINKS instructors have their eye on a competition for next year that will involve even more students from even more curriculums. “It becomes a process of students learning from other students,” Dr. Stanley stated.

This competition experience will stay with Barry and Stevens for the rest of their lives. While they were nervous at first, they agree that it was inspiring to see so many people who share their passion and talent for woodworking. “It was such a great experience. We got to meet at least a hundred people who have a huge influence in the woodworking world. It was great for exposure and getting to know the woodworking industry,” said Barry. The exposure to the HCHS WoodLINKS program and the students will only grow as plans to take the chair on a regional tour get underway this fall. John Barry and McKenzie Stevens will continue their training by enrolling in the DCC Product Design and Development curriculum at the SVHEC this fall. The program is now enrolling adult students for fall classes. Those interested should speak with the Community Colleges office at the SVHEC by calling 434-572-5440 or toll-free 1-888-283-0098. Current high school students who would like to experience the success of John Barry and McKenzie Stevens are encouraged to speak with Dual Enrollment Coordinator Shawn Haws and their guidance counselor about registering for the Building Trades course this fall.

Southern Virginia Higher Education Center
820 Bruce Street, South Boston, VA 24592
Phone: 434.572.5440 Toll Free: 1‐800‐283‐0098 FAX 434‐572‐5462