Eugene Reid got a phone call the other day. The former student had been part of Reid’s Building Trades Program at Canaan, Vermont Memorial High School, and went on to an apprenticeship in sheet metal fabrication. The young man had also come from a family that had struggled with poverty.
Now he is working a union job with a fabricators’ union — and likely out-earning his former teacher.
“I just want to thank you,” the young man said to Reid. “I love my job, I love what I am doing, I am doing well — and I have you to thank.”
Eugene Reid is a self-described “shop teacher” who has shaped the lives of generations of students at a school that serves students from New Hampshire and Vermont. He is the recipient of the 2021 Louise Tillotson Teaching Fellowship, a $10,000 stipend to support excellent public school teachers and reward their commitment to schools in the North Country.
“What’s very exciting is that a shop teacher got this award,” he said.
In his “Home Repair and Maintenance” class, Reid teaches young people how to wire switches, install a toilet, hang sheetrock, maintain a hot water heater — and much more. (Many go home and teach their parents the same skills.) Students in Reid’s Building Construction and Restoration Carpentry Program learn how to completely restore old homes. And every student who walks into his room is reminded of the life lessons etched on Reid’s chalkboard: “Be kind. Be responsible. Be respectful. Be safe. Never watch someone struggle. If you are on time, you are already 10 minutes late.”
The Building Construction and Restoration program Reid created has students restoring entire historic homes — which comprise the majority of the region’s housing stock. Students learn how to re-wire, re-plumb, re-roof and do all the carpentry involved.
“I am very passionate about historic buildings, and the skill level necessary to restore them is higher than that of building new — and the students do very well,” he said. Reid has even established a funding mechanism that sustains the program: The school district buys the old homes to be restored — and then sells them and puts the money into the next restoration project.
Albert Marquis is a former student of Reid’s who is now a union welder. He works on infrastructure projects — from drawbridges to nuclear power plants. He wrote that it was Reid who sat him down and got him to apply to community college — a program that led to his current career.
If not for Reid, he wrote “I would not have gotten this career with [excellent pay] and an amazing pension program and benefits. Honestly, I probably would not have been looking for a job with benefits unless he had instilled how important that was for me to get. He is not only a teacher for the trades, but a teacher for life.”
Reid said that he continues to see increased interest in the trades among his students.
“I know I make a difference,” he said, “I don’t mean to sound bold, but I have students who are doing very well and living well-adjusted lives — and it’s because they went into a trade.”