Primary school students paraded on stage the toy penguins they made in the woodshop at a special assembly on Thursday, January 18. Dressed in a tuxedo to mimic the iconic black and white birds, woodworking teacher Gerry Clifford led his gaggle through the school and onto the stage in the Lowell Center, waddling all the way together with their new penguin friends. 

The much-anticipated presentation of the penguins takes place every other year. While most of us focus on the final product – an adorable penguin toy and the pomp and circumstance of the parade, it’s really the process that is quite amazing! The Penguin Parade is the culmination of a 4-month-long project that has held the attention and commitment of our youngest students. While such a long process could be hard on little ones, Mr. Clifford says he introduces them right away to his hands-on methodical process.
“They walk in in September, I introduce myself, give them goggles and a saw, show them where the benches are, and they begin working. It unfolds just like that, so within 15-20 minutes of meeting me they are working on a project.”
The process of making the penguin starts with cutting out the shape of the penguin. Mr. Clifford draws the figure on a piece of poplar wood (chosen for its durability to withstand rough handling over time), then draws straight lines from the outside of the piece to the form.
As he says, “they simply learn how to cut a straight line. Once they’ve cut 12 lines, they’re familiar with the saw, so at that point we start cutting out curves.” The students cut out the penguin entirely, and then take their new friends back to the classroom where they apply the paint. In some of the classes he’s had, they also do the drilling and assembly if there’s time. Asked whether they lose interest over time, he says emphatically, “They’re into it every time they come.”
“The moment you walk into the woodshop you’re going to engage yourself in something that takes a long time. If you stay with it, by the time you’re in eighth grade, you will be making something much more complicated, like a Shaker chair.”
The assembly is so special on many levels. It’s a common experience that many of the students in our school community share. It’s no wonder that they all know the “Peppy the Penguin” song by heart! Hands shot up in the air as young students were eager to talk about their own experience in the woodshop when Mr. Clifford ask them to share some thoughts about making their penguins. The responses from the students were wonderful and inspirational for the educators and parents in the audience.
“If we can do it, you can do it.”
“It was hard but we got it done,”
“I liked using the four in one.”