It may seem like an unlikely location for an innovative, career and technical education (CTE) model, but a formerly abandoned middle school building in rural Peyton, Colorado, is now teeming with life, thanks to the efforts of a small group of educators and a large group of business partners. When you step into the Peyton Woods Manufacturing Program, which opened in fall 2015 to serve students in grades 9 through 12, it quickly becomes clear that this is not the “shop class” we all remember from our high school days.

With nearly 6,000 sq. ft. of space for the program and more than $800,000 worth of the latest, high-tech woods machinery and equipment, the Peyton facility rivals that of other top-of-the-line corporate manufacturing training facilities. While the program focuses on teaching entry level through advanced cabinet manufacturing skills, its students also are learning about lean manufacturing and automated CNC (computer numerical controlled) technology, both of which are transferable skills that can apply to just about any material or market. 

The level of professional wood manufacturing, math, and problem-solving skills that Peyton’s students gain are in high-demand here in Colorado as well as around the world. According to Tim Kistler, Superintendent of Peyton School District 23-JT, there are currently 100,000 lean manufacturing jobs nationwide that are left unfilled.

“We’re losing so many skilled woodworkers to retirement, and the younger kids are often directly moving on to college. It’s a struggle to find the skilled workers we need to meet our demand,” Rhynel Evans, human resources manager at Concepts in Millwork, shares. “A lightbulb went on when I heard about the Peyton program – they are teaching the skills we need.” 

Connecting Students to Businesses

Thanks in part to the connections made by Peyton’s program director, Dean Mattson, who was the founder of an Oregon-based cabinet-making company, more than 40 industry partners like Concepts in Millwork have donated state-of-the-art machines, equipment, and woodworking supplies to help the program further its mission.

During the course of a school day, students have the opportunity to learn directly from one of the many corporate partners who come in to offer hands-on instruction on the latest hand tool techniques or how to use the newest drill bits. The school aims to expose students to the breadth of opportunities available to them within the woodworking and manufacturing industries, including the more administrative functions like HR and project management, so that they can identify the career or educational pathway that is right for them.

We believe that education is simple – treat kids with respect, tell them why what we teach them is a benefit to them, and show them the money.

Dean Mattson, Program Director

Major local and nationwide employers, like Sherwin-Williams, Stiles Machinery, 3M, and Bosch Power Tools, have been quick to recognize that it’s not just the technical skills that the program’s administrators and instructors are committed to instilling. The program focuses much of its attention on the soft skills that are critical to developing a well-rounded, contributing employee as well.

“At Peyton, we’re trying to create programs that are professional and aligned with industry. We believe that education is simple – treat kids with respect, tell them why what we teach them is a benefit to them, and show them the money. And, the kids love it,” says Mattson. “We’re also teaching them how to have integrity – we teach students to do what’s right, even when no one is watching.”

Steve Waltman, vice president of communications for Stiles Machinery, adds, “For a long time, the education system has ignored the needs of our students, particularly high school students, who go straight from high school to work. Plus, the woodworking industry itself has developed such that we need people with additional training, particularly in high tech. Peyton fulfills all of that – students can discover the world of work, experience the joy of working in the woodworking industry and gain the soft skills they can use throughout their professional life.”

A Lesson in Collaboration

Not only is Peyton a model for innovative, employer-inspired CTE programs, but it also is an excellent example of how smaller school districts can come together to deliver high quality educational opportunities for the good of their students.

When Widefield School District 3 Superintendent Scott Campbell heard about the Peyton Woods program, he reached out to Kistler and Mattson to determine a way to get his students involved. Now, there are 30 students from Widefield who take a wifi-equipped bus from Colorado Springs to the Peyton facility every Monday through Thursday. As a result of that successful collaboration, other school districts have contacted Kistler to gain access to the program. Currently, 180 students from 11 different high schools in six different school districts participate in the Peyton Woods program every day.

“We want to use Peyton as a model to show how smaller schools can work with other districts to create a program that prepares kids to go on to bigger and better opportunities,” says Kistler. 

Today, Kistler, Mattson, and Campbell are expanding on that mission and opening even more doors as they focus on their next collaborative effort – the launch of the Manufacturing Industry Learning Lab (MILL), a national training center set to open in August 2017. Housed in a former potato chip factory located south of the Colorado Springs airport, the 46,000-sq. ft. facility will be filled with state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment, including CNC machines.

With the opening of the national training center, high school students from all across Colorado can continue their training in advanced CNC education. The facility will be open in the evening for continuing education and corporate training opportunities for regional community college students, transitioning military personnel, manufacturers’ employees, and others.

We want to use Peyton as a model to show how smaller schools can work with other districts to create a program that prepares kids to go on to bigger and better opportunities. 

Tim Kistler, Superintendent of Peyton

As Waltman from Stiles Machinery says, “It is such a joy to find school systems and educators and fellow suppliers who are all willing to pitch in and make something worthwhile. If we could replicate this success across the country, how tremendous would that be?”

Here at Colorado Succeeds, we couldn’t agree more.

photo of
Shannon Nicholas