EASTHAM, Mass. (AP) — Seventeen years ago, Jody Craven was waiting for an English teacher's job to open up when he was offered a one-year deal to teach metal shop.
Today, he runs an award-winning fine metals and jewelry program, the only such course at a Cape high school and one of just a few statewide.
His students at Nauset Regional High School consistently take home state and national Scholastic Art and Writing Awards for their creations in copper, silver, brass, bronze, and semiprecious and precious stones.
But more important, students love this elective despite its rigor and the fact that Craven is no easy A — unless you mean Type A.
"I have a reputation for being Type A," admitted Craven. "And it's true. I'm super-competitive. I want to have the best jewelry department in the country."
Jewelry making, he said, is "a real pain in the neck, a really tedious craft. There is a lot of technique, and it's tool intensive. But it's also so rewarding to create such quality."
Steve Wardle, owner of Forest Beach Designer-Goldsmiths in Chatham, said he's been surprised and impressed by the Nauset students' work.
"Jody gets a lot out of his students. ... Many of them are well on their way to becoming professionally competent," he said, so much so that Wardle has hired some graduates to work in his studio.
During a recent Jewelry II class, about a half-dozen students, an equal split of boys and girls, wore goggles and focused intently on tiny lockets or rings.
The upper-level curriculum is to complete a lost-wax casting piece and a locket, Craven said.
The lost-wax casting process dates back to ancient Greece, and involves many steps, beginning with creating a mold from wax and pouring molten silver into the mold. Most students used this technique to create rings adorned with semiprecious stones such as opals, simulated emeralds and aquamarine.
Independent study students who have completed Jewelry II — usually juniors and seniors — can choose to work with gold and precious gems. But they must buy their own materials, which can range anywhere from $5 to over $1,000 depend on what they want to use, Craven said. Most students keep their work for themselves or give it as gifts.
Brandon Hooper, a sophomore from Brewster, said Craven's classes are among the most popular in the school. Hooper took Jewelry I only because his first choice — a computer design elective — was full.
He found that he had a gift for the demanding craft, however, and signed up for more of the half-year classes.
"And next year I hope to do independent study here," Hooper added.
Halley Steinmetz, a junior also from Brewster, said jewelry making is her favorite class.
"It's the most creative, interesting and unique," she said. "My brother took it before me, and he got me into it. I think it's amazing what you can do with metal."
Safety and cost rank as the two top reasons school administrators are reluctant to start jewelry programs, Craven said in an Art Jewelry Magazine interview.
"I have to be a stickler because we're dealing with molten silver and $500 stones," Craven said.
However, he has been able to get thousands of dollars' worth of free gems donated from dealers who are excited about high school jewelry programs. Consequently, his budget has not gone up significantly in years, and remains in line with other art classes, Craven said.
The metal shop program 17 years ago "was a warehouse for kids," he said.
School administrators offered him a one-year position to run it.
"I had no metals background," said Craven, who now shows his own jewelry at the Left Bank Gallery in Orleans.
By chance he began working with jewelers, and the traditional metal shop began to evolve.
"Jewelry making is more educationally valid," Craven said. "This allows more ability to be creative, and you get more problem-solving skills."
He said he studied with jewelers and took classes at the Massachusetts College of Art. He eventually earned a master's degree in art education.
Administrators have supported the program because Craven's teaching ability is "outstanding," Principal Tom Conrad said.
"He has great passion and ability to work with teenagers. And he works very hard to stay current in his field."
For example, Craven has taken the lead in working with students on a 3-D printer for jewelry, Conrad said.
"That's the kind of teacher he is," Conrad added.
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