Bobby Skeeters teaches students more than just how to make things in his industrial technology class.

The knowledge they gain goes beyond technique and measurements. They walk away with lessons that can't be taught by a book, life lessons in caring and giving back.

For several years, Skeeters' Van High School shop class has built fire pits for members of the military.

"The boys just wanted to do something to give back to the soldiers," Skeeters said. "It's just kind of our way of saying thank you to the military guys."

Students learn how to design their project and work with complex tools like plasma cutters to create their project one part at a time. Those parts are then cleaned, polished and cared for by the students from the beginning idea to the completion of the finished product.

"It's a pretty special calling and the kids, even they come in and say, ‘What are we doing for them this year?'" Skeeters said. "That these kids come in and didn't think about what to build for themselves or what they could do but what they could do for these guys. That was real special to me."

As word spread about the class, more kids have wanted to get involved.

"Everything that I used to work on the fire pit I'm going to be able to use as a career when it comes to welding angles, or welding thin metal, or just using my imagination to make something that someone would appreciate, and something that looks good," said Van High School senior Keagan Tucker.


And Skeeters lessons stay with students.

Skeeters recalled getting an email at Christmas from a student he taught 20 years earlier. That student was serving on an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf.

"As a teacher you sit here and say, ‘Why do I do this?' … I guess that's why we do it," Skeeters said, choking back tears.

You'll never hear him taking credit for the impact that he has on the lives of his students, but it's easy to see the impact they have on him.

"I don't know how many times people go, ‘Man, you're a great teacher,'" he said. "I'm not a great teacher. I've got great kids. I just give them the tools, plant the seeds."

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