Bryant Martinez, an artist and nationally certified welder, is teaching students from the Pepin Academies Riverview campus how to weld, a trade skill that will allow them to become certified and land jobs.

Every day, two groups of six hand-selected students from the Pepin Academies Riverview campus travel to the Pole Barn at Winthrop and learn the skills of welding from artist Bryant Martinez. The Pepin Academies welding program has been ongoing since August 2019.

Martinez is a nationally certified welder who has been welding for 20 years. Each class lasts two hours. According to Martinez, the students learn the fundamentals of welding.

“They are taking that knowledge and building items,” said Martinez.

Together, they have created two backpack racks, two bike racks and two 8-foot sculptures. All of the items are installed at their school.

Now they are working on awnings for the parent drop-off area. Because Martinez is first and foremost an artist, each awning will feature little extra items such as sculpted dragonflies and ladybugs.

Martinez said, “I treat each student as a welding artist, so the awnings will have artistic pieces added to it.”

Each student was required to buy their own equipment, including steel toe boots, a welding helmet with full shield and welding gloves and jackets.

When I visited a class, it was clear that the students were 100 percent invested in the class. They each warmly greeted Martinez and then got on their gear and got to work. I was able to witness them work together.

The students are accompanied by a job coach, Monica Garcia. Martinez has taught her to weld as well so that she can get in and help. Garcia has been with Pepin Academies for seven years.

Garcia said, “It has been a dream journey. I get to go from the classroom to this.”

She added, “The students are learning a trade skill. You cannot get this type of training in a classroom.”

Several of the students echoed this sentiment.

Dimonte said, “This is definitely more than I expected.”

Eli said, “This has opened up new things for me. Bryant taught us a lot. Ms. Garcia transporting us everyday is very meaningful.”

Diego said, “It is fun. I look forward to it, and I plan to continue.”

Solomon said, “I enjoy it. I get to paint the sculptures when they are done.”

John Stansberry, the assistant principal at the Riverview campus, said, “Providing a welding program allows students to experience a field typically not offered in high school. They can get certification and immediate job placement without post-secondary education. The level of confidence in the students has skyrocketed since inception. Some were not very successful in their academic careers. Now, they are able to show their talents to the community of Winthrop, Pepin Academies and the Tampa Bay area.”

This program would not be possible without commitment from the school’s administration and the space being provided by Kay and John Sullivan.

For more information on Pepin Academies, please visit www.pepinacademies.com.