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Vocational instructor helps students turn visions into reality
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More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
UTHS Vocational teacher John McCormick
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
UTHS Vocational teacher John McCormick
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
UTHS Vocational teacher John McCormick
EAST MOLINE -- In his classes, a dream can be made real.

To prove it, John McCormick pointed at the ceiling of his classroom in the Area Career Center, on the United Township High School campus. Suspended up there was a boxy construction of orange, plastic piping and small motors: a working submersible -- a vehicle that can work under water.

"One of our students designed that," he said, obviously proud.

Another example hangs nearby: a functioning scooter for scuba divers – a small machine that helps propel them through water.

Again, designed by a student, said Mr. McCormick, 49, of Milan.

On the back wall are several scale models of houses, all dreamed up by students and all built by contractors.

He said getting a house you designed built is to the designer what getting a book published is to a writer.

"For a high school kid, that's pretty cool stuff," Mr. McCormick said.

Students come to the center from Rock Island, Moline, Rockridge and other high schools all over the Illinois Quad-Cities area and begin to learn how to shape raw materials – metal, wood and plastics -- to their will.

Mr. McCormick's job, he said, is to help them figure out what they want to do with that power or if they want to do anything with it at all. Some students find vocational training is not for them.

Those who stay often go on to become engineers, welders or designers, he said. Many end up at Deere & Co., which is a major supporter of the center and its students. Deere provides employees, raw materials and resources to help train the students and also will pay to further their education, Mr. McCormick said.

That education includes working with state-of-the-art machines and tools stored in another classroom. This room has the concrete floors and slightly oily, sweet smell of a workshop. The machines, incomprehensible to the uninitiated, hulk everywhere. They can stamp, cut, grind and burn raw materials into just about any shape needed by the students.

Projects students work on in that room often involve direct application in the students' environment, he said.

For instance, when they can, center students lend a hand repairing things around UTHS. They have designed parts for private companies and, in one off the more recent projects, have been building weight equipment for the UTHS sports teams.

What students learn in other classes suddenly becomes something they can use in the real world, he said.

"I (the student) get to use that math, I get to use that science for something," Mr. McCormick said.

Another part of his job is trying to instill a work ethic in his teens. Show up, stay focused and positive and get something done, he said.

The students are perceptive, he said. They can tell if teachers are sincere in their passion.

"If you can get a kid to buy what you're selling, they'll usually buy a bunch of it," he said.

Mr. McCormick is not shy about his passion for his job. He has been teaching since the 1980s and said he has the best job in the Quad-Cities.

He said he likes to work with his hands and has designed furniture and houses for people, and he gets to share his expertise with students whose presence in class is by their own choice.

"I'm dealing with bright kids who want to be here," he said.

The job keeps him on his toes, though, Mr. McCormick said. He never really knows what his students are going to bring to the table.

For instance, some of them once built a motorized cart with an engine that made it possible for the thing to go about 90 mph, he said. He didn't ask about the engine at first, and by the time he figured out what the kids were up to, it was too late to take it back.

"I didn't think it was going to go that fast," he said, shaking his head.

But that uncertainty also keeps him young, Mr. McCormick insisted.

"I am blessed," he said. "I really enjoy doing what I do."





Living the dream

Who: John McCormick, vocational instructor at the Area Career Center at United Township High School

Quote: "I'm dealing with bright kids who want to be here."


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