FAIRMONT - Six Fairmont Junior/Senior High School girls have fused into the male-dominant welding class this year.
Instructor Bob Bonin's initial surprise at the girls' appearance in his welding class has evolved into total pride in his female students.
"They've out-welded all the boys in the class," he said.
From left, Brooklyn Healey, Natalie Shimon, Marisa Lehr, Haley Korsmo and Skyler Linton are breaking gender barriers in the welding class at Fairmont High School. A sixth girl, Marissa Theobald, is not pictured.
While there have been other females in the welding class, Bonin said "they took it for fun." The current students share a variety of reasons for signing up.
Natalie Shimon and Marisa Lehr hope to help their fathers. Shimon, whose father farms, thought she could help him with repairs, while Lehr plans to help her mechanic father in his shop.
The welding class, in its second year, also offered an option to more traditional classes.
"I originally was taking math," Shimon said.
"We dropped it to take welding," said Haley Korsmo.
"It was the best thing we ever did," Shimon added.
Likewise, classes in child development and computers were shunned by Brooklyn Healey and Skyler Linton, who opted for welding.
The art aspect also enticed the girls, and they have created some unusual pieces. Korsmo welded a heart as a gift for her parents. Linton is working on nautical stars. Lehr spent about four hours crafting a decorative bowl from nuts and bolts.
Shimon welded "Prom?" on a metal plate. Her unusual invitation was successful in securing a date for the spring event.
Healey originally wanted to make a butterfly but had difficulty fashioning the curved wings. She adapted the project to make a heart filled with small wire coils.
Linton enjoys the welding class but admits "it was different at first."
Lehr feels "it's a good skill to fall back on."
Having girls in the class prompted some adjustments to the classroom. Windows in an adjoining office area have been papered over for privacy so the girls can change clothes if they choose. Usually, they don a set of the coveralls available as protective covering from sparks.
The girls admit there are some portions of the class, specifically the book work, that they don't enjoy, but they have learned about gases, how to read a blueprint, the correct method for beads and making joints - and safety.
"We follow the same regulations as OSHA," Bonin said. "We're very strict about safety - helmet, glasses, shoes. I teach them to be aware of their surroundings."
"You really need to pay attention," Healey said.
"Hot metal looks just like cold metal," Bonin said.
Bonin said welding "is not a class just for anyone," but the girls suggest it to others as an option to the usual electives.
"You learn how to be patient," Korsmo said.
And - if they choose to pursue a career as a welder - they might enjoy the monetary benefits.
"There's three Fairmont High School graduates at Agco, and one is making $62,000 a year, just as a welder, with a high school diploma," Bonin said.