BELOIT—Many things are born in the classroom of new Fruzen Intermediate School technical education teacher Steve Johnson. From the ability to use a saw without losing a finger to building beautiful handcrafted furniture, students continue to surprise themselves and others with what transpires around Johnson.

“It’s cool you can build things you never thought you could build before,” said student Allie Gustafson.

“We like all the creative ideas we can run with,” said student Luka Kovac.

Students in the class covered a lot of territory this year, having made wooden peg games and birdhouses and learning to use electric saws, drills and more.

“I like building things and being able to use the tools,” said student Mitchell Stuessy.

When sixth grade teacher DeeDee Arp found some reading chairs on Pinterest she liked, she knew exactly where to turn for help—Johnson’s classroom. The unique chairs incorporated book shelves into them allowing for storage space. Arp knew the chairs would be a perfect fit for her class.

“I am always looking for flexible seating choices in my classroom, and these reading chairs are functional and practical. When students are comfortable they are calm, focused and more productive,” Arp said.

With no blueprints to share, Arp showed Johnson some large striped cushions she hoped to incorporate into the chairs and left the rest of the project up to him.

Johnson, a retired manufacturing engineer from Woodward Governor in Rockford, had no problem making a design for the chairs, one to be made of oak and one to be made of poplar. He then put his students to work.

Gustafson, Kovac and Stuessy as well as students Marissa Sanchez, Miles Wisdom, Layla Murry, Laila Lee, Ayden Synder and Xavier Miller said it was a challenging yet rewarding six-week project.

“We set up a saw to cut out boards. Each person got a board to stain, and then we hung them up to dry,” Miller said.

After the boards were prepared the class was broken into teams, with each table of students building a particular section of the chair. The students said getting the bookshelves even was a challenge as well as using the nail gun which would shoot occasionally shoot nails through the side. However, the students said Johnson’s patience and easy going nature helped them complete the project.

“If you don’t know how to do something, he’ll take his individual time to help us,” Gustafson said.

When the chairs were delivered on Jan. 17, Arp was thrilled.

“Since the chairs arrived, the students have been more motivated to read. They love them,” she said.

Johnson said he’s enjoyed working on the project as well as his new career in teaching. He volunteered at Beloit Memorial High School teaching CNC classes. After he retired from Woodward Governor in October of 2018, he was recruited to the School District of Beloit and started at Fruzen in January of 2019.

He said he loves getting to instruct the students on how to safely use the machines. While students often start out timid about using the equipment, they gain confidence as they learn safe techniques.

“It makes me proud when I come in and there are sanders and table saws running,” he said. “They love cutting. They’ve learned to run the machines safely. We’ve handed out a few Bandaids but no stitches.”

To help guide students on their construction journey, Johnson said he instructs students in Lean manufacturing, or techniques for reducing waste and increasing productivity.

“We emphasize four things: safety, quality, delivery, and cost,” Johnson said.