By Max Goodwin
On the corner patio of Crows Coffee at the Red Bridge Shopping Center sits the perfect large white pine table for a small community gathering. It is edged in walnut with corners made of cherry.
What Zach Moores, owner of Crows Coffee, likes best about this table is that as a piece meant to build community, it is also made by the community. Moores met with students from Center High School’s advanced woodworking class last fall to design the table. In the months since, the class has been building it out.
“This table represents what I love about this neighborhood, that it’s built for communities, a community of people, and everybody gets a shot,” Moores said.
This woodworking class comes out of the city-wide Real World Learning program that has been led by the Ewing M Kauffman Foundation over the last four years. Real World Learning gives students real-life experiences to identify potential career paths.
The kids filed off the bus as Moores swept the patio clean on the day they installed the table. Some students moved the tabletop into place as others brought over the metal legs and oak beam that would secure the legs. The students had cut, planed, and sanded the wood for the table, and Moores purchased it.
In the corner of the table is an inscription noting that the Center High School 5th Hour Advanced Woodshop class of 2022-23 crafted this table in collaboration with Zach Moores, owner of Crows Coffee. “May the conversations around this table help keep the Center community strong for many years!” the inscription reads.
Walter Vitt is a Center High School sophomore who lives down the street from Crows Coffee. He’s one of the first to grab an impact driver and begin fastening the metal legs to the table one screw at a time with the confident look of a tradesman with years of experience. Once they got both legs attached and the oak beam pushed into place, it was time to turn the table over.
“Alright, are we ready?” said woodworking teacher Alec Chambers. “Watch the concrete as you turn it over.”
Walter’s mother, Melissa Evans, stands at precisely the right angle to photograph the big moment with her phone. With his woodworking skills, Walter made her a little chest box for Mother’s Day. Melissa explains that Walter was at a school in Shawnee Mission at the start of his freshman year, and they had nothing like these real world learning experiences he’s had at Center, like the woodshop class.
“It’s definitely a gift for him, that’s for sure,” Evans says. “As a mom, it’s not easy to be like, yeah, let me get you a woodshop, you know if that’s what you want to do at this point.”
With the tools he has been able to work with at school and the structure of being at school with a woodshop teacher, Walter has become pretty adept with his hands, and he’s set his sights high with his new skills. He wants to be an underwater welder one day. It’s a dangerous job, but Walter heard it pays well.
He has the pathway to his dream job well planned with the help of his mother, and this class at Center has helped start it. Melissa and Walter plan to come down the street to Crows Coffee often to see the table that Walter helped craft.
“Real world learning is basically the idea of giving kids experiences with real life settings so this is a client project,” said Jeremy Covey, Coordinator of Real World Learning for the Center School District.
He says this project is an excellent example of what these real-life experiences can provide. He is currently in his second year on the job. Two years ago, Center had no woodshop class. It had been discontinued many years before.
When the idea was brought to the Center School Board to bring back woodshop class, they were shown projects from Center alumni who are now 50 and 60 years old and still keep projects they worked on in high school, said Rick Chambers, Director of Communications for the Center School District.
By the time the students got back on the bus, another shop owner who had come out to see the installation mentioned to the Center administrators how cool it would be to get something like that for their shop.