“To most of my students this is a class of firsts. First time with hand tools. First time on a welder. First time soldering pipe. First time wiring a circuit.”

As Travis Wyrick put it in his prizewinning application, he “found a home in my high school agriculture department.” After graduating high school, Wyrick attended California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, planning a career in agriculture and taking all the courses he could in irrigation, equipment maintenance, electrical and more, along with honing his welding abilities at Cuesta College. A college professor noticed his heavy course load and encouraged Wyrick to become a teacher.

An educator for the past 12 years, Wyrick takes students who have rarely or never worked with their hands and takes them through a program he calls “handyman class.” Beginning with basic practices in ropework, surveying, irrigation and plumbing, electrical, woodworking and welding, students advance to complex builds, crafting welding trailers and disc harrows, which are tools used to prepare fields for planting. In the last academic year, students worked to restore a 1926 International Harvester Disc Harrow for the Tulare County Tractor Museum, researching its history, working with local manufacturers to build custom parts and coordinating the restoration.

Wyrick’s goal is to introduce students to a variety of agriculture-related trades and spark interest in an agriculture-related career over the course of a three-to-four-year program—from working in the timber industry to installing water wells to becoming construction engineers.

“It is my job to help find which career can best fit my students,” Wyrick said.

Wyrick’s students earn welding, hydraulic, irrigation and mechanic certifications, and earn credits at the College of the Sequoias. Seniors average 14 college units by graduation, and Wyrick has all his students draft a 10-year career and education plan for life after high school. Wyrick was a finalist for the 2018 Prize for Teaching Excellence while teaching at Ann Sobrato High School.

“I loved teaching students about what I knew and loved learning more so I could bring it back to the classroom.”