A Community Pilot: Student-Made Toys Bring Joy

“This project allows students to give a gift and recognize that they are making a difference in someone’s life, that they have talents and services that they can offer to the community.
—Lance Gunnersen, El Dorado UHSD Teachers Association

Lance Gunnerson

For 18 years, Lance Gunnersen has provided students with the opportunity to learn and bring joy to others. Each fall, the Career Technical Education (CTE) teacher asks his carpentry and engineering students at El Dorado High School to design and produce toys – cars, train cars and toys. other items. The toys are painted by the school’s art students. The students are also transforming the carpentry workshop into a holiday paradise for elementary school children who come to visit and receive their gifts. Young visitors are entertained with games, food, and music by the high school orchestra.

Stephanie Davis

Stephanie Davis

Due to the pandemic, the much-loved project was put on hold in 2020, which “devastated Lance,” says Stephanie Davis, president of the El Dorado Union High School District Faculty Association. But in the fall of 2021, it was back and expanded – thanks to the enthusiasm and energy of educators, and supported in large part by a Community Engagement Project grant from CTA.

The El Dorado Chapter joined several other CTA chapters in El Dorado County – Gold Oak Teachers Association, Mother Lode Teachers Association and Placerville Elementary Educators Association – in applying for the $1,000 grant. The money was mostly used for materials and supplies to make the toys, and transportation from high school to participating elementary schools to deliver them. The grant covered about two-thirds of what was needed, with the chapters contributing the rest.

Gunnersen and his students increased production from the 100 to 300 toys of previous years. “We’re following the industry and identifying production patterns,” says Gunnersen, who sits on the CTA State Council’s Adult Alternative CTE Committee and is the chair of the CTE subcommittee. “We have a production line. Students hold positions in different stations. »

Other students and educators participated. “In the evening, high school AVID students, middle school leadership students, and teachers, parents, school board members, and superintendents helped wrap the gifts,” Davis says.

Gunnersen’s pupils dressed up as elves to give away the toys to delighted primary school children.

A high school student dressed as an elf gives toys to children

A student at El Dorado High School, elementary school kids admire toy cars.

“What I teach leads to lucrative careers,” says Gunnersen, explaining his thinking behind the project. “Students liked what they learned, but did not understand that their newly acquired skills could have positive effects on the world around them. This project allows them to give a gift and recognize that they are making a difference in someone’s life, that they have talents and services that they can offer to the community.

He says he often receives calls from companies and industries asking for talented students who want to work in manufacturing and construction, as it is increasingly difficult to fill jobs due to a lack of a qualified talent pool. .

He notes that local businesses contribute to the project, exerting a positive influence that extends far beyond the students. “Businesses, parents and the community at large are getting involved, from providing food and funding to helping out at the carpentry shop.”

Davis and the presidents of other chapters who won the community grant will likely reapply this year. Chapters representing other district feeder elementary schools can also join for even greater community impact.

Gunnersen is ready. “I have kids who say the event encouraged them to re-enroll in my class,” he laughs.

A high school student dressed as a reindeer entertains children with art projects.

Students at El Dorado High School dress up as elves and reindeer to give gifts and engage children in creative activities.


CTA Community Engagement Project Grants

Many CTA chapters work with individual stakeholders and community organizations on behalf of their students. If your chapter is interested in starting a new project to explore community bonding and needs seed funding, consider applying for a CTA Community Engagement Project Grant. Contact your regional UniServ staff or email [email protected].

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