Creating joy one rocking horse at a time
For the past 19 years, Terry Stotts, has been teaching his students how to make wooden rocking horses, first at the Multiple Careers Magnet Center and now at Career Institute South, where he became a construction teacher this year. The students who worked on the rocking horses to develop skills will donate them to the Ronald McDonald House, an organization that provides resources to families with sick children.
Stotts says that this process of making the wooden horses teaches his students to give back to the community, while learning a new skill. Students spend the semester cutting, sanding, staining, and putting the horses together. He makes sure the students undergo safety training in their classes before even beginning to work on the wooden horses or any construction project. In fact, Stotts has three classes that are working on safety training, and two that are working on wooden horses.
Later this month, the horses will be delivered with the help of community volunteers, including Dallas ISD team members.
To help fund the materials for the project, Stotts applied for a Junior League of Dallas grant for Innovative Teaching. He was one the Dallas ISD team members who won up to $2,500 to support programs that fall outside of school budgets.
For years, the rocking horses were an annual tradition for Stotts and his students at the Multiple Career Magnet Center, and the tradition carried through to the Career Institute when the career and technical education clusters merged this school year to provide state-of-the-art facilities and an inclusive experience to students receiving special education services.
Stotts, who has primarily worked with students who receive special education services, now also works with general education students. Students who had previously attended the MCMC school location are now attending the Career Institute North or Career Institute South.
Stotts has seen firsthand what this type of career skills development program does for young men and women, as well as the changes that occur throughout the course of the year. He says a lot of his students gain confidence and self-esteem, compared to when they first entered his classroom.
“They start making things, and they take it back to their home campus and all the other kids see what they’re doing, and they want to be a part of it too,” Stotts said. “It just helps them feel good about themselves. It’s more than just teaching a subject matter.”
Stotts has received positive feedback from parents throughout the years about the program, and said a lot of his students’ parents are surprised when they see the skills they develop in his class. Many of his students go on to get jobs with the skills they learned and stay in contact.
Stotts is also the kind of teacher who establishes a connection with parents and calls them to update them on their children’s progress, challenging the stereotype of calling parents only when students are having challenges.
With 41 years of experience as an educator and over 20 years in the district, Stotts said he is eligible to retire, but stays on the job because he simply loves his students and doing what he does. He is also thinking about the sustainability of his yearly rocking horse project and is teaching other colleagues at his new school about the grant and how to construct the rocking horses.
“I’ve told my colleagues, ‘You all can keep doing this.’ This program needs to continue not only for what it means to our students and families, but to the children who are receiving this gift during the holiday season,” he said.