Four welding stations with individual electric vent fans for each station line the wall of the new classroom recently built by Brian Copes’ engineering students at Thompson High School in Alabaster.
Like any classroom, this one features fluorescent lighting, power outlets and electric power, but unlike typical classrooms, this one can be easily shipped across the world in a matter of days.
“Last summer, we went to Belfate (Honduras), and it’s a very destitute situation. A lot of people there still live in mud huts,” Copes said. “They don’t have a lot of access to skilled trades. The kids fish or work the fields, and they don’t have much of a chance of a future beyond that.
“We are really giving them instant vocational schools,” Copes added.
Over the past few months, Copes’ students have been working to turn a 40-foot-long, 8,000-pound shipping container into a mobile classroom. The container was donated by Alabama Power, and Kirkland Wrecker Service transported the crate to Alabaster’s Limestone Park earlier this year.
Lincoln Electric Company donated four welders to outfit the classroom, Sherwin Williams donated paint for the project, the city of Alabaster provided space in Limestone Park for the container, Southern Gas and Supply and Atlas donated welding supplies, Mayer Electric donated electrical supplies, Pearce Auctions donated desk chairs, the Shelby County University of Alabama Alumni chapter donated supplies, Steve Spicer and Miles Jackson mentored the students on creating the container and the project was sponsored by Skilled Knowledgeable Youth.
Cawaco Resource Conservation and Development Council Inc. provided an $18,000 donation to the project.
The welding classroom container built by Copes’ students was one of four built by students statewide to ship to Belfate. Bibb County Career Academy is making a small-engine and auto mechanics laboratory, Eufaula City Schools is building a woodworking laboratory and Satsuma High School is building a computer lab.
All four of the container classrooms will be shipped to Gulfport, Mississippi, this month before they are transported by Dole to Honduras.
On Friday, everyone involved in the project gathered at Limestone Park to cut the ribbon on the container classroom a few days before it was set to ship out.
“It’s a pleasure to represent you. You never cease to amaze me with the great things you do,” state Rep. April Weaver, R-Brierfield, told Copes.
“The way you turn children on to working with their hands, it’s a tribute to your vision,” added state Rep. Matt Fridy, R-Montevallo. “It’s having an impact throughout the world.”
Also during the ribbon-cutting ceremony, students unveiled a low-cost, easily manufactured prosthetic leg to benefit the developing world and a solar suitcase currently being used in a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya.
“These kids are changing the world,” Copes said. “The opportunities are limitless. The only question is who is going to step up and do the work.”
This story originally appeared in the Shelby County Reporter.