KENNEWICK -- Brian Garcia was in a tight spot while working on his horse sculpture recently at Kamiakin High School.
He climbed inside the framing of a 61/2-foot-tall sculpture to help fellow senior Ben Sullivan weld one of the shoulders. They've worked late nights for the past week and a half to get it done in time for graduation.
The sculpture, which will sit on their school's campus when completed, isn't the only project the seniors are working on. They're also involved with a dozen advanced shop and metal art students making metal silhouettes of native animals commissioned by the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center.
Agriculture and shop teacher Denise Senor said the projects give students the opportunity to hone their metalworking skills and the needed tools, from computerized programs to handheld plasma metal cutters.
At the same time, it is a way for students to give back to the community and see their craftsmanship at work.
"It makes the education a lot more real," Senor said. "It's not just busy work."
The horse sculpture and silhouettes serve different purposes and require different skills. The horse sculpture is a more artistic piece that requires Ben and Brian to cut and bend pieces by hand. The silhouettes are more technical. Students use photographs of the animals, ranging in size from a squirrel up to an elk, along with a computer program to guide a plasma laser to precisely cut sheets of steel.
The horse sculpture is the final project for Ben and Brian and must be completed before they can graduate. They started working on it in January. Now they're working long after classes are finished each day to shape the pieces of steel and weld them together.
The silhouettes are part of a cooperative effort with the interpretive center, which is set to open in June 2014. Stephanie Button, the center's program and education coordinator, said she began reaching out to schools last year about opportunities for students to get involved.
"This gives students ownership of the (interpretive center) before it even opens," Button said.
The silhouettes will be polished and painted before students install them in landscaping around the center. Horticultural students from Kamiakin High may be involved in designing the landscaping as well. A number of the silhouettes will be on display at the Education Showcase at the Richland Public Library on Friday and Saturday.
"This is something we hope we can build on each year," Senor said.
Each project has its challenges. Brian said it was difficult to find good photographic references to make the silhouettes, while Ben said it took more time to individually shape and weld the horse sculpture together.
However, both said they were proud of their work and the contribution it will make.
"I think it's something teens actually like, and it's a way to make the neighborhood nice," Ben said.