“Our students would say their greatest skill learned from our program is communication and work ethic. Those skills have allowed them to maintain a good relationship with their employers and be dependable employees. Our program is successful today because of our reputation. I have former students hiring our students and supervising them. I have students that constantly visit to talk to students about the importance of listening to the advice given to them in this program that will make their futures more successful. Our program literally sets our students up for life.”

For more than two decades, David McCoy has been teaching students welding and impacting their lives for the better. He is currently a welding teacher at Pleasure Ridge Park High School in Louisville, Kentucky. Prior to teaching, he worked in the welding industry for 20 years, with experience in fabrication, manufacturing, repair, and inspection. He earned an associates degree in Applied Science from Western Kentucky University, along with technical education training. While learning to weld at Elizabethtown Career and Technical College, he won local, regional, and state SkillsUSA welding competitions, placing 7th in the nation as an adult. He has been an American Welding Society certified welding educator for over 20 years, and carries a certified welding inspectors certification. In 2023, he won the WHAS Television ExCEL Teacher Award. This year, he was nominated for Kentucky Teacher of the Year.

In six years at Pleasure Ridge Park High School, McCoy grew the welding program from a single teacher program to a three teacher program, and now co-teaches with his son. When he first arrived, the classroom was an old girls locker room that had been gutted. He and his students built the welding booths, placed all the new equipment, and brought the shop to life together. Their first year was so successful that they expanded a two-teacher program their second year. Since starting the program, they have certified over 320 career-ready students. This past year, his class had a 100 percent certification rate.

McCoy’s program is set up as a three-year program, and instruction is given through in-class explanation, teacher demonstration, targeted modeling for struggling students, and independent discovery. First, students start with the basics, such as safety, theory, tools and equipment. Then, they learn to physically weld all processes. The second year teaches blueprint reading, more advanced processes, fabrication, and identifying career goals. Students learn how to procure materials and divide up responsibilities. During their third year, students advance their welding skills, and learn professional skills such as budgeting and interviewing; eligible seniors will go work in the trade. He stresses that the work is not complete until the job site is cleaned and organized to teach his students to respect the environment, their materials, and each other. McCoy states that “Teaching them to weld is the easy part. Teaching them to maintain their success and be good citizens in our community can be a challenge sometimes… We talk about life skills such as budgeting, saving, investing, and things that will make their lives better, happier, and less stressful.’”

McCoy’s program has more partners than any other program in their district, including WireCrafters, Carrier Vibration, Kentucky Trailer, Integrity Fabrication, Local 502 pipefitters union, Local 70 ironworkers union, Local 110 sheet metal workers, Atlas Machine and Tool, Caldwell Tanks, Mac Construction, and Altec Industries. He maintains an open door policy with industry partners to encourage classroom visits. What visitors will see are students engaged in modifying weld technique, students giving feedback on other student welds, teachers monitoring and modeling, and a climate of productivity.

Collaborating with multiple partners, McCoy started “Future Woman of Welding Competition”, the first all-female welding competition in the state of Kentucky, which drew media attention, and has expanded their female student base. Participation has already grown from three females in 2022 to 20 females in 2023. In addition to competitions and partnerships, students have showcased their abilities on a popular YouTube channel and podcast, “Why The Trades” with Clelland Russell. This gave them a platform to discuss their own successes and the learning environment at Pleasure Ridge Park High School. When students are offered employment, McCoy treats the signings like a college athlete signing and brings in news channels to spotlight the program.

Due to the continual evolution of both the industry and students, McCoy is diligent in employing the latest technological advances in the field, such as virtual welding. He prioritizes student voice in the classroom, seeking input on the class and implementing great ideas. McCoy’s students develop a strong sense of ownership, knowing that their voices are heard and seeing what they have built as a result of their own hard work.

“What I love most about being a skilled trades teacher is seeing my students succeed. I wish I knew the number of students that I have put to work. I can tell you that I still communicate with several of my seniors I had in my very first graduating class, several of them are still in the industry. I have been to weddings and danced with their children seeing their happiness. I have students running jobs that are hiring my students or in charge of them, and that is very satisfying. It’s very personal to me and they are all my children if you will.”