TRESCOTT, Maine — Students in Cobscook Community Learning Center’s high school program are learning science, technology, engineering, math — and the arts — by making guitars.
The 10 students, who are enrolled in an alternative high school program accredited through Calais High School, gathered Feb. 11 for their first day of hands-on work.
Guitar bodies had arrived and Michael Giudilli, one of three teachers in the program, instructed the youths on their first steps. These included using a round rasp to remove chunks of material from the wooden bodies in order to customize their shapes. Students could then use sandpaper to smooth the edges of their guitar bodies.
The project is literally called the STEM guitar project, said Giudilli. To prepare for it, Giudilli and co-teacher Kara McCrimmon participated in a guitar-building workshop in June. The workshop, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, provided teachers with the skills and experience necessary to build electric guitars with their students while teaching a variety of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) concepts. For example, students will have to calculate the spacing required between frets and build and wire the electric circuits that power and play their guitars.
“We chose [this project] because of the strong STEM emphasis, because of the interdisciplinary nature,” said McCrimmon. “Frankly we also chose it because [Giudilli] and I are both musicians. We both play guitar.”
Students began the project this past fall by planning fundraisers with a goal of raising $5,000 to pay for guitar components and the tools needed to build them, said Giudilli.
“The whole process is educational,” said McCrimmon. “The process of writing fundraising letters, planning and holding events and talking to people about the project is entirely new to the students. They’re learning really important career-related skills through this.”
Now that the school has the tools needed for the project, McCrimmon and Giudilli plan to run the project again in the future, though not every year, they said.
In between fundraisers and, later, while waiting for ordered guitar components to arrive at the school, students spent classroom time learning about manufacturing, electronics, design, sound and amplification, said McCrimmon.
Some students, such as Lexie Morrill, are taking guitar lessons in anticipation of bringing home their instruments in late April or May, McCrimmon said.
“I think it’s super cool. I’ve never done anything like this,” said Morrill.
Student Jacob Locke also is excited about the project and said he can’t wait until his guitar is together.
“I think it’s going to be cool,” said Locke, who already knows how to play.
Student Mason Fortier said the project provides a fun, creative way to learn that is much better than just sitting in a classroom.
He said he is considering taking guitar lessons, though he may just try to learn from his dad, who already plays.
McCrimmon said the project has received enthusiastic support from the community.
“We’re regularly getting asked how’s the guitar project doing,” she said.