By Jacqueline Reis
WORCESTER — Sometimes seemingly unrelated things mesh, like welding and reading, devastation and art, or vocational and academic education.
In the welding shop at Worcester Technical High School, all of those pieces are coming together, and the result is a stunning sculpture called “Integro” that is growing more than 12 feet off the shop floor. Its metal roots are waiting to wrap around a chunk of granite in Boston, and the steel butterflies in its reaches give viewers a sense that the sky is no limit.
Its creators have their own roots and heights, as does the school where this art is being born.
William R. Kleinedler, an artist and retired Army staff sergeant who was severely burned by an improvised explosive device in Iraq, designed the sculpture on a commission from the Fisher House in Boston, which provides free housing for the families of injured soldiers while the soldiers go through rehabilitation, a process that in Mr. Kleinedler’s case took eight months.
Mr. Kleinedler, who lives in New Braintree, drew up the design but then realized he would need tools such as a plasma cutter. He asked around, and someone in industry pointed him toward Worcester Tech.
After talking to Kyle J. Brenner, director of career and technical education for Worcester public schools, the project Mr. Kleinedler conceived as a solo effort suddenly gained a number of apprentices.
They include students in sheet metal, welding, drafting and machine tool technology departments. The welders have been particularly busy, and yesterday they helped Mr. Kleinedler wind copper “vines” around the steel tubing and attach leaves.
The welders include Natalia Baez, Cameron Harmsen-Williams, Zachary Kelly, Sundra Lam, Kenneth Rivera and Marvin A. Gomez , a 17-year-old who came here from El Salvador approximately seven years ago. While Mr. Kleinedler was recovering from his catastrophic injuries, undergoing surgeries, and learning how to hold a pencil again, Marvin was tackling English.
Within days of Marvin’s arrival in Worcester, his father handed him an English book and told him to start to work reading it. He gave him a translation a few days later, and the boy started working out the words little by little.
“My family’s always been fairly aggressive when it comes to learning and taking new opportunities,” he explained in flawless and understated English.
He spent two years in a bilingual classroom before going into a mainstream English class. When it came time for high school, he decided to apply to Worcester Tech, as his older brother had, because, he said, “I wanted to learn something that could provide opportunities for jobs… You’re not just learning the basic things you need to know to go to college.”
It has worked out well. In addition to enjoying welding — “I’ve always liked hard work. I don’t mind working in a hazardous place,” he said — he also took Advanced Placement English language last year. He scored 5 out of 5, one of only two 5s on the 136 AP tests taken at Worcester Tech last year. This year, he is taking AP English literature.
“I don’t mind the work or speaking in front of people,” which used to frighten him, he said. Now, he adds, “I think school teaches you the basics, and I think it’s up to you to expand it.”
It is probably no accident that a project involving remarkable people is happening at Worcester Tech. It is one of the district’s most successful high schools and had the district‘s highest graduation rate in the spring. Last month, the school was featured on the “Today” show after NBC’s Education Nation project chose the school as a case study.
Principal Sheila M. Harrity said the sculpture is typical of the type of work that brought the national recognition.
“It’s the… opportunity to apply their skill set and also to be out in the community and be recognized for what they’re learning,” she said. “It creates the student that has a higher self-esteem and school pride.”
The school will celebrate the NBC recognition with an open house Oct. 17. The sculpture will also be on display that day, and it will have a send-off from the students later this month. Its unveiling in Boston will come Nov. 10 as part of Veterans Day weekend.
Working with the students has been “awesome,” Mr. Kleinedler said. “They want to learn… Every step of the way, they’ve been right there.”
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski