MEXICO — MEXICO — Students in the metal trades program at Region 9 School of Applied Technology are using their skills to help area organizations.

The high school juniors and seniors helped install a bridge at the McCoy-Chapman Forest, a 493-acre tract in Gilead, Bethel and Newry, installed fences at Bethel Veterans Park and did work for the Mahoosuc Land Trust and area fire departments.

Instructor Pete Barlow emphasized there’s a lot more than just on-the-job training and manual labor in his class.

“You need to limit the labor-intensive part; it’s good, but you can’t let it take over,” he said. “We’re trying to create that student that can do machining, welding and maintenance repair, but also one who can develop good computer and behavior skills. We want them to be employable.”

The school, a mix of hands-on and classroom work, has been an ideal fit for many students.

“We create a good foundation for a lot of the students here,” Barlow said. “A lot of them may not have fit in at their academic high school.”

For some students, making the transition from a hands-on environment to sitting behind a desk is difficult.

“I feel like my time is most valuable when I’m here, senior Cody Hemingway said. “I feel more productive.”

Barlow said he notices a personality shift in some of his students when they leave the metals shop.

“They’re not in their comfort zone behind a desk,” he said. “When they are in the shop, they are talking, they are responsive and they are confident.”

Seventeen students from Bethel, Dixfield and Rumford schools and home-schoolers are enrolled in the program.

The school, through grants and donations, has received some state-of-the-art equipment, making it one of the top programs in the state.

Barlow said he tries to help his students take the next step after completing the program.

“I like to see my students have a couple of options,” he said.

Some pursue higher education, join the workforce or enlist in the military.

The school has an agreement with Central Maine Community College in Auburn and Southern Maine Community College in Portland, allowing students to earn college credits.

Barlow grew up in Hanover and attended Rumford schools, the former Northern Oxford Vocational Area metal trades program and the former Central Maine Vocational Institute in Auburn. He has taught in Region 9 for 28 years.

He encourages people with an interest in the program to attend the open house every fall.

“A lot of people do not see what we have in here,” he said.

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