SPARKS FLY AS LHS GIRLS LEARN TO WELD
No posters of Rosie the Riveter are in La Grande High School's clean, well- equipped welding shop.
A poster of the World War II icon would be fitting because it would lend historic balance.
Six decades ago women welders, inspired by Rosie the Riveter posters, were an instrumental part of the United States' World War II effort. Today female welders are seemingly as difficult to find as vinyl records. That is unless you visit places like
La Grande High School's metal shop.
Here, it is almost as if one has stepped back to World War II an era when American women, inspired by Rosie The Riveter posters, made sparks fly in machine shops and shipyards. LHS's welding classes, taught by Joe Brogdon, are filled with girls. He has 11 in welding classes now and for the year has had 28. The high numbers are not a fluke. Brogdon has had an average of about 30 girls in welding classes each of the past three school years.
The increase came after LHS's welding shop was remodeled and its beginning woods class was combined with welding to create a new applied technology course. Since then word has gotten out among girls welding is enjoyable.
"It is fun to get out of the classroom and do something with your hands,'' said sophomore Amanda Cathey.
Girls are naturals at welding.
"Some can weld circles around guys,'' Brogdon said.
An average girl welder usually is a little better than an average boy, Brogdon said.
"Girls generally have better fine motor skills,'' the LHS teacher said. "It is why girls have better penmanship. If they can control a pen they can control an electrode (used for arc welding).''
Many of the girls in Brogdon's welding classes are not shy about boasting of their superiority.
"We are better. The boys like to deny it but we are,'' said sophomore Bailey Ackley.
Ackley noted that boys ask her for help, something she finds satisfying.
Freshman Amanda Nice has a similar sentiment.
"We want to beat the guys at (welding) and most of the time we do,'' Nice said.
Brogdon said the boys welcome the girls but they don't like being out- welded by them.
"It works on their egos a little bit,'' the popular LHS teacher said.
Most of the girls are in Brogdon's beginning welding class. They do a series of arc and gas welds that increase in difficulty. Most do the work with smiles on their faces. Looks of frustration are hard to find.
"A lot find out that they are not only good at it but that they enjoy it,'' Brogdon said.
Few of the girls have major professional ambitions. Some plan to put their skills to use as adults.
"I might start a bike shop on the side when I get older,'' said sophomore Cali Wetstein.
Brogdon points out that professional opportunities are available to girls, but it is not his objective to push them toward welding careers.
"The whole idea is to give them experience so they will understand it and not be afraid of it,'' Brogdon said. "When they visit a construction site they will remember I used to do that (welding).' ''
Sophomore Kyann McAllister believes that the welding skill she is developing is something she will retain the rest of her life even if she doesn't do it regularly.
"Once you get it down it is like riding a bike,'' McAllister said.
While welding the girls sometimes get grease smudges, ones they wear like a badge of honor during class.
"I like getting dirty. It's fun,'' Nice said.
The girls, however, take pride in looking nice after class. It is why Brogdon installed a full-length mirror in his classroom, one not there before the influx of girls hit.
Brogdon begins his classes by emphasizing safety. Sophomores Cora Beach and Dena Huff said they appreciate the emphasis on safety.
"He teaches you to be scared at first,'' Beach said.
Brogdon foresees welding continuing to be popular among girls at LHS. He would welcome this.
"I enjoy teaching them because most have not welded before,'' Brogdon said. "It's fun because it is all new to them.''