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Build a canoe? Yes they can!

Abigale Seipke, Ruby Walsberg, Scotti Berg, Sarah Oling, Krysten Linville. Photo by Tammy Francois.1 / 5
Abigale Seipke and Ruby Walsberg. Photo by Tammy Francois.2 / 5
Rick Coughlin. Photo by Tammy Francois.3 / 5
Krysten Linville and Scotti Berg. Photo by Tammy Francois.4 / 5
Scotti Berg, Krysten Linville, Abigale Seipke and Ruby Wallsberg, students in the THHS canoe-building class have been busy affixing strips of wood to their craft. Photo by Tammy François.5 / 5

What happens when you combine five young women, 18 weeks, more than 9,000 staples, 800 feet of one-inch strips of basswood, cherry and walnut, and numerous bottles of glue?

Well, if everything sticks to the plan, the girls in Rick Coughlin's woodshop class at Two Harbors High School will have built a 16-foot canoe.

It should be said that the numbers of staples and wood strips are the figures to date; the craft isn't finished yet. But it's well on its way. When completed, it will be the first project undertaken by an all-girl woodshop class at the school. In between the sound of the staple gun and the occasional buzz of a saw, the girls laugh, call to one another and chat back and forth -- the sound of learning and collaboration.

"Don't join if you don't want to be part of a team," advised Sarah Oling, working with two other girls to secure a strip of wood to the canoe's frame.

"Don't join if you don't want to get dirty" added Scotti Berg. Both are 10th graders and said they liked the class and the opportunity to learn in an all-girl environment. Krysten Linville, also a sophomore, agreed.

"I took the class because I thought it would be fun and because it would be just girls, so the boys won't discourage us and tell us we're doing it all wrong," she said.

On the other end of the canoe, Ruby Walsberg and Abigale Seipke, wearing identical "best buddies forever" bracelets, were working together. Walsberg said that her decision to enroll in the class was influenced by being able to take a class with her friend, Seipke. With one industrial arts class underway, the pair has already decided they want to take more.

"Abby sort of signed me up, but I knew I would like it. We're going to take welding next year," said Walsberg.

Seipke nodded in agreement. Welding is another of the industrial arts options at THHS, but it is open to all students. There are also additional woodworking classes available, but all the girls in the canoe-building class said they'd take more all-girl classes if they had the chance.

"(The boys) try to take over and do it all and we're fully capable of doing it," said Linville.

Rick Coughlin has been teaching industrial arts for 35 years and is overseeing the canoe project. He said that the idea for the class came from THHS principal, Brett Archer.

"Brett felt that if there were just a girls' class they'd be more comfortable and less intimidated," he said. "They're going to do it again next year. They wanted to get the girls more involved in shop."

"It would be a shame if girls never took the opportunity to see if they enjoy working in these areas. It is my hope that by removing any perceived barriers more girls will participate in our industrial tech. programs," said Archer. "Schools should be about opportunities to explore possibilities." To that end, Archer has been collaborating with others to open more doors for young women.

"I have been working with Lorrie Janatopoulos, who is the director of planning with AEOA and together we have been looking at funding opportunities to expand this concept by offering more introductory and exploratory classes for girls in the shop areas. In the long run this may end up creating more economic opportunities for women in the area," he said, "these girls in the canoe class are in many ways leading the way."

Archer's support of the project and the girls has not gone unnoticed.

"Mr. Archer is more enthusiastic about our canoe than we are," Berg said, adding that Archer has mentioned he may buy the canoe once it's completed, and at the very least there will be a pizza party.

The craft will be offered to the girls first, said Coughlin. Its builders will have the option of buying the canoe at cost. If they opt out, it will be sold to the highest bidder.

Sarah Oling, Berg, and Linville said that instead of buying the canoe, they may make another one over the summer.

By all accounts, the class has made wood-workers out of the five young women. Despite reports of smashed fingers and slivers, the girls now seem to be wielding tools like pros and making steady progress with just weeks remaining in the 18-week semester.

As for Coughlin, he says this will be the last project he oversees at the high school. He's retiring this spring.

"There'll be things I'll miss and things I won't," he said with a smile. He says he has a long list of home-improvement projects that will keep him busy. In the meantime, he keeps one eye on the group of four who are attaching strips to the canoe's frame, while he helps Linville fix a staple gun that has been clogged with glue. He checks on the canoe intermittently and seems to take it all in stride -- the noise, the malfunctioning staple gun and the impending deadline for completion of the craft.

The girls work amiably toward their goal of adding four new strips to the canoe during the 50-minute class.

"We all tend to get a long," said Berg.