Terry Stotts has 35 years of teaching under his belt—or more precisely, his tool belt. As the construction technology teacher at Multiple Careers Magnet Center in Dallas, Stotts teaches his special education students the proper technical skills needed to secure employment once they leave his shop. But his students learn more than basic woodworking during their time in his class—they learn compassion. Through Kids Helping Kids, an area program founded by Stotts, his students spend months building and assembling wooden rocking horses that are delivered to local sick children during the holidays. We spoke to Stotts about the program’s impact on the rocking horse recipients and on the students who make them.
How did Kids Helping Kids get its start?
We started years ago for another organization. After a student of mine chose to build a rocking horse for one of his projects, I decided to have the class build more so we could take them to kids in the hospital, and it went on from there. We now build horses for the patients at Ronald McDonald House.
What’s your favorite part of the process?
It’s great seeing the look on the kids’ faces when we deliver the horses. When a kid is sick, you cannot explain what they are going through. By giving them a gift, maybe they’ll forget a little about the sickness and pain. It means a lot to my students to do this for other kids since many of them have been in hospitals or medical centers themselves.
How do you build a rocking horse?
My students will draw the patterns out on a board that they will cut with an arm saw. They will then use the band saw to cut out the patterns. After that, they will grab the parts and take it to the drill press, cut the holes, sand, sand, sand, router the edges and sand some more. We check for splinters, stain the wood, assemble the parts, varnish the horse, paint the eyes, put the yarn on for the hair…and that’s it.
That takes some skill, right?
Yes, some of the work my kids do is amazing. Some of the carving they do on the machines—they can do better than I can. My second- and third-year kids grab the first-year kids and teach them better than I can. I have parents who come in and say, “I didn’t know my son could do this, or I didn’t know my daughter could do this.” Every kid has something they’re excellent at doing, but it’s finding what it is. All these kids need is someone to show them how.
Have you received any support from the community?
The Junior League of Dallas sponsors our program, and for the past four years, we’ve been getting a grant from them. The money helps us buy the materials for the rocking horses. Additionally, the last two years, the Dallas Police Department has helped us deliver the rocking horses. It’s been a blessing.
What do you hope to teach your students?
I hope they learn to communicate and that if they want to go get a job, they’ll be able to. Being a woodworker takes skill and practice. The more you work at it, the better you will get.
I believe every human being can do something if you teach them or show them.
It’s more than subject matter in teaching, and I always try to teach like a coach.
You’ve been teaching for a long time. Any plans for retirement?
I could retire if I wanted to, but I enjoy what I’m doing—I enjoy these kids. They never give me any discipline problems—they always show up and hardly ever miss a day. These kids will work and do what you ask them to do. These are my students for three years, three hours a day, and we get close. We’re like a family.
Are your students ready for the holidays?
Oh, yeah. The first thing they say when they come through my door at the start of the year is, “Hey, when are we going to start on the horses?” We’ve got about 40 already made, waiting for the final touches. This year we’ll make around 150, maybe more, and will start delivering right before the holiday break.