Rawhide educator needs public’s votes to win grant
Starr Academy hopes to build tech ed space
By Scott Bellile
For some at-risk teens who attend Rawhide Boys Ranch’s Starr Academy, setting foot into a technical education class is the first step toward a lucrative career in the skilled trades.
If those students are aspiring woodworkers, then woods instructor Jerry Trzebiatowski is fortunate in that he can teach them in his shop every day.
On the other hand, those who prefer metals have limited opportunities because the equipment is too far across campus to justify daily classes.
Trzebiatowski wants to change that. His dream is to build an addition, double the size of the wood shop, inside Starr Academy. The new shop would offer students instruction in the subjects of metals, welding and computer numerical control.
The public has an opportunity to help Trzebiatowski achieve his vision by voting for his idea online.
Farmers Insurance announced Oct. 4 that Trzebiatowski is one of 15 finalists nationwide in the running for a Thank America’s Teachers Dream Big Teacher Challenge grant.
The top five educators who receive the most votes will each be awarded a $100,000 grant in December.
The public can vote for Trzebiatowski once a day now through Saturday, Nov. 3 by visiting this link.
Trzebiatowski’s campaign is sponsored by Marcia Selle, an agent for Farmers Insurance in Appleton.
Trzebiatowski joined Starr Academy as a wood shop instructor in 2013.
Oftentimes new Rawhide students arrive to his classroom with a penchant for misbehaving and an urge to test authority.
But after just two weeks of disciplined, hands-on learning in the shop, Trzebiatowski has seen transformations in students’ attitudes. They enjoy making projects such as birdhouses, cutting boards, musical instruments, fishing nets, workbenches and ice shanties.
Some boys even elect to spend their free time tinkering in the wood shop rather than participating in basketball or racing.
Trzebiatowski’s woods class meets every weekday for 45 minutes.
This is far more frequently than metals and welding because those classrooms are located across campus. It takes 12 minutes to walk to and from Starr Academy just to have class, Trzebiatowski said.
To save time, students only meet for metals and welding every Friday for two hours.
“If we could do it here [at Starr Academy], we could offer it all week long,” Trzebiatowski said.
Offering Starr Academy students more opportunities to use tools could help boost their confidence by showing them they can accomplish amazing things, according to Heather Stern, Rawhide’s development director.
Many of Rawhide’s boys come from home environments where they never hear what they are capable of achieving, Stern said.
To illustrate this, Trzebiatowski said Starr Academy students oftentimes dream of becoming a manager at a fast food restaurant after they graduate from high school.
Trzebiatowski hopes increased exposure to the trades could nudge students toward technical college and therefore higher-earning occupations such as electricians and carpenters.
A former student of Trzebiatowski’s was born with a crack addiction. Growing up, he lacked a father figure, was abused by his mother and her boyfriends and locked in closets.
The student found success by building items in the wood shop every day, Trzebiatowski said.
He moved on from Rawhide, but Trzebiatowski thinks he could become a successful carpenter one day.
“My prayer is that he remembers what happened here and at some point he can be released from the system and find a job. … He’s got so much energy, so much strength,” Trzebiatowski said.
Trzebiatowski said winning this grant for Starr Academy students is more likely to happen if supporters post the link to vote over social media.
All he asks is for is people to vote. No donating is involved.
“If we get this grant, that’s God telling us we need to do this,” Trzebiatowski said of expanding technical education at Starr Academy.