Granite Falls teacher wins innovation award from aerospace center

GRANITE FALLS — It’s OK to fail in Michael Werner’s class.

The Granite Falls High School manufacturing teacher is all about teaching practical skills, which means trying and failing is part of the equation.

“In my class, you can screw up,” Werner said. “And I actually enjoy it because when you screw up, you can try it again and apply what you learned the first time.”

He wants to prepare students for jobs, especially in Washington’s manufacturing industry. In June, his dedication to hands-on learning and real-world projects earned him statewide recognition.

The Center of Excellence for Aerospace and Advanced Manufacturing selected Werner as its first Innovative Teacher of the Year, which is expected to become an annual award.

The center is one of 10 across the state, each focused on a different Washington industry. Executive Director Mary Kaye Bredeson said her center is tasked with creating a skilled workforce for aerospace businesses, which is why teachers like Werner are so important.

An advisory board of people working in the industry selected Werner as the first teacher to receive the award.

“I wish we had more teachers like him, with his dedication and passion for teaching,” Bredeson said.

She said she is impressed by Werner’s efforts to get both girls and boys involved in manufacturing.

Werner, 54, started teaching at Granite Falls High School in 2007. He lives in Stanwood, but grew up in Switzerland. Werner has lived in the United States since 1985.

Growing up in Switzerland, apprenticeships and college degrees have always been viewed by Werner as equally valuable. He’s learned to work with metals, wood and other materials through hands-on education and challenging projects, and that’s the type of schooling he tries to provide for his students.

In 2009, Werner started the Eco Car program at Granite Falls High School. Each year, students build a car to compete in the Shell Eco-Marathon Americas. The contest challenges students to create an extremely fuel efficient vehicle.

Werner coordinated the ShopGirls, an all-girls EcoTeam. He also coaches UrbanAuto, a team for both boys and girls.

“It’s really about what project I can reach a kid with,” Werner said. “We’ll come up with a project that gets them hooked and allows them to explore and learn and fail at some points.”

Along with the extracurricular Eco Car team, Werner teaches five classes per day during the school year, with between 20 and 25 students in each. Out of more than 100 total students, he’s never taught more than 10 girls per year, he said. That’s something he’d like to change, he said, by encouraging more girls to pursue careers in manufacturing.

He’d also like to change the perception that college is the best option for every high school graduate. Experience in the workforce is just as important, he said.

“Sometimes I think the schools push everything toward college. But to me, the students have different ambitions and they’re equal,” Werner said. “There’s a couple of kids we’ve just kept in school and kept from dropping out.”

His next goal in Granite Falls is to expand hands-on technical education to elementary school children. Specifically, he hopes to set up activities that let students take information from math and science lessons and apply it to projects, from creating a small toy in elementary school to building a car engine in high school.

“A big part of it is teaching students to know how to think and not what to think,” Werner said. “They give this award to one person, but it takes a village to get this to happen.”

Werner tries to do more every year, said EB Holderman, Granite Falls School District spokeswoman. She described him as a leader and innovator.

Werner describes himself as part of a team.

“I’m just a link in the chain, I suppose,” Werner said. “But I like being that link.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439;

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