OAKLAND -- Twelve lucky girls from Edna Brewer Middle School were given the opportunity to participate in the Gear Girl Project offered by The Crucible, an industrial arts workshop in West Oakland.
"The Crucible wrote a grant for 12 girls to participate in their Gear Girl Project. The girls created steel sculptures and learned to weld, and torch-cut for six Wednesdays," said Kathy deRosas, who coordinated the project on behalf of the school.
DeRosas designed a lottery system in order to select participants from all three grades. The goal of the program is to expose young women to the welding industry, which has been historically male-dominated. There are a ton of opportunities in the industry, said Ismael Plasencia, a youth program associate for The Crucible who organized the project.
"It's dirty, but it's fun and profitable. It's a misnomer that you cannot make a good living welding," Plasencia said.
Plasencia's father is a welder and he grew up learning the trade. After graduating from UCLA, he returned to welding.
"I love making things that will last a lot longer than me," Plasencia said. "Giving kids a hands-on experience helps bridge the gap with what they are learning in school. Since arts have been cut from the schools, this is an alternative. Art is a great equalizer. Creativity is not dependent on one's upbringing.
The light torch is a few thousand degrees. You are actually blind, when welding, because of the protective shield over your face, Plasencia said.
"It is rare to get this kind of exposure to the industrial arts," deRosas said.
"It empowers the girls and helps them work through the fear of the tools and fire."
The first couple of weeks there were tears and some of the girls were stressed out, but that changed after a couple of classes, continued deRosas.
"I was really nervous when I first got here," said eighth-grader Emma Ly, who was building a statue of a pig. "I was really hesitant because it was new to me. But now I am pretty confident. I would definitely do it again."
"It's good to get out of your comfort zone and try new things. I was scared when I first got here, but now I feel like an expert," said sixth-grader Lamaya Harden.
In 2006, 50 Edna Brewer Middle School students participated in a program at The Crucible, working with mosaic artist Rachel Rodi to create a sculpture of a panther, the school's mascot, that has been on the school site ever since.