“When I was a young boy, my father took time to teach me how to use tools, how to build out of wood,” said Mike Tontz. “It saved my life. It gave me purpose, it gave me direction.” Now, as an adult, he owns Tontz Construction Company, specializing in the restoration of historic homes (he’s done more than 60 homes on the island, including three current historic restorations).
It came to his attention recently that the Coronado High School Woodworking Class needed a bandsaw. “It took me all of two seconds to realize what I had to do,” said Tontz. Earlier this month, a new bandsaw arrived at Coronado High School, courtesy of Mike Tontz and Tontz Construction.
“This is incredible,” said Ken Heskestad, the popular young woodworking instructor at CHS for the past eight years. “The bandsaw is literally one of the first machines my students learn to use in this class. Everyone uses it. In terms of a gift that will be effective, it is the best thing, something that will affect the most students in the shop. It’s a staple of our creativity and function, and will allow my kids to achieve excellence in a very special way.”
That excellence Ken mentions is worth taking a closer look at. He’s very proud of his students. Half way through an animated and enthusiastic description of his woodworking classes at CHS, you begin to realize just how important this class is — how important Ken Heskestad is to our students and to our educational system.
“For starters, this is a very cool class,” he says in no uncertain terms. “It’s an elective, but beginner class fulfills the practical arts requirements for the UC schools, and that’s part of the draw for the class.
“It’s also pretty easy to get an ‘A’ in the class if you just do the work. I was surprised to see how many freshmen enrolled in the class. What’s great to see is that the kids really take to it, and I often have them for two, three and even four years.
“In the beginning I tried to figure out how I was going to get 14-year-olds into woodworking, and keep them interested. So, I figured we would start with skateboards. All the beginning woodworkers would build skateboards, which gave me the opportunity to teach them spray paint, template work, to watch YouTube videos with them, and essentially create whatever they wanted to build.
“We do some of the classic woodworking things, such as pens and frames and stuff like that, but where it takes a turn is, and this is taking place now, in February, I’ll teach them how to make proper woodworking joints, which allows them to build their own tables. They can be small or large, and each kid designs his or her own thing.
“Previously, the kids would come in and make a clock, but it was everyone making the same thing. I think that’s a sure-fire way to turn kids off to woodworking, if they’re all little automatons coming in and, ‘today everyone does this; tomorrow, everyone do that.’
“For a lot of these kids, they’re not used to having to work carefully in a physical way. For example, having measurements matter. They’ve been learning to use the lathe lately, and the first project is to make something that is exactly eight inches long, exactly 5/8 of an inch wide. It’s the most basic thing, but says, ‘show me you know how to use this machine, making just this thing.’
“[Woodworking] is part of
a bigger metaphor for life.”
“If it’s not exactly right, over or under, I take points off, and they’re beside themselves. ‘But, it’s so close,’ they say. And I have to explain to them that it’s not what it’s supposed to be. So just having to work carefully and precisely, sure, it’s good for woodworking, but it’s part of a bigger metaphor for life.
“Just deliver what’s asked of you. This is the thing. Do the thing. Don’t do it right. Do it excellently. And that’s a big thing, being careful and precise. We stress ideation all the way through to completion. I think having something in your brain and taking it to something physical, is pretty profound — to see your idea out in front of you.”
As for Tontz Construction, the final word goes to Mike Tontz. “Working with tools like this changed my life,” he said. “I want other young men and women to have that opportunity. I’m grateful to be able to help, and I’m sure this will be just the beginning of a long relationship with Ken, his students and Tontz Construction.”
Already, as this story was being put together, Tontz was discussing how he could donate large amounts of leftover wood to the shop class upon completion of a home restoration. During his visit to the classroom, he also saw other mechanical needs, and Tontz was quick to offer his help with whatever the class needed. This is a great example of community working together to build a stronger community.