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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Brighton High’s jewelry program teaches students skills for real-world application

Dec 09, 2021 02:51PM ● By Julie Slama

Brighton High’s jewelry teacher Albert Spencerwise helps Jewelry I students with their projects during class. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Last spring, a group of Brighton High students petitioned the Utah State Board of Education, wanting the school to offer Jewelry III.

Brighton High’s jewelry teacher, Albert Spencerwise, said there has been a lot of recent growth in the jewelry program and when it was looked into, a course curriculum already had been established. That allowed the school to offer the self-led curriculum course that prepares students for working in the industry. 

Senior Brandeis Atkinson is a third-year jewelry student.

“I like working with my hands and learning skills and as I looked at classes, jewelry was something I could envision would be appealing and I thought it would be a quick art credit,” he said. “The more I learned, the more I liked doing it and could appreciate what I was able to make with my own hands. In the first class, I learned a lot. I learned engraving by hand and by machine. I soldered a copper ring and learned how to do Viking knitting to make a necklace. Then, I made a woman’s ring.”

That project, the significant woman’s ring, he gave to his girlfriend.

Spencerwise said that is Jewelry I’s capstone class project—a sterling ring where students learn how to bezel-set a premade cabochon.

In his second class, Atkinson said he learned more advanced techniques by engraving a copper bracelet with intricate flowers, leaves and mountains. 

The course also includes projects that focus on riveting, soldering, chasing and repoussé, advanced stone setting: prong and flush setting.

This fall, Atkinson is presenting his signature pieces as if he were to open his own jewelry line at a store.

“I can pretty much do what I want as long as I meet the requirements and pay for my materials,” he said. “I’m making a necklace, a bracelet, a pair of earrings and a ring. I’m still learning advanced work and getting the help such as learning the temperature I needed to set the kiln.”

While Atkinson doesn’t know how jewelry will be a part of his future, he has appreciated learning the craft and may continue to do it as a hobby or even a side business.

“This has quickly turned into a passion,” he said.

Brighton’s jewelry program has been offered for 40 years, having been established by former teacher Walt Schofield. 

Spencerwise said it was Schofield who studied jewelry on the Navajo Nation and learned how to make the significant woman’s ring and shared it with his classes. When Spencerwise began teaching the curriculum, that craft was no longer being taught so Schofield returned to teach him and even made instructions to lead the class in the craft.

“He was really excited that we wanted to have it come back as part of the curriculum,” Spencerwise said.

In his Jewelry I class, currently 95 students are making that Navajo-inspired ring for their mothers, grandmothers, sisters, girlfriends or someone special in their lives.

All of jewelry classes are steppingstones to lead to a field apprenticeship. This fall, Brighton has established a partnership with nearby Jonathan’s Jewelry, where students can apply for an internship to learn the skills needed in a jewelry store. 

“Students are learning the skills they need for the industry. Typically, they can earn $45-50 per hour after taking Jewelry III, just for doing engraving work,” he said. 

This spring, the partnership hopes to allow students to showcase their jewelry in the store and allow them to sell it to customers.

Senior Zerriaha LeClaire is enrolled in Jewelry I, following in her great-grandma’s footsteps of dabbling in the craft and extending the family tradition of working in the arts—from painting and drawing to music composition and woodworking.

“As I started doing it, I loved it and really excelled,” she said. “I connected with the teacher, and it has become a lot of fun, something I really look forward to doing.”

In the classroom, Spencerwise has those who oversee their tables and a classroom hierarchy to help fellow classmates, which LeClaire sits at the top. 

“I usually don’t open up, I’m a social introvert, but I threw myself out there and now I’m it,” she said. “This class has helped me come out of my shell so now I help my classmates learn how to do things. It’s just the best environment; we are excited about learning and are able to take our time to focus on what we’re doing. This class gives me a chance to connect with others and myself as I learn patience; I am able to relax and just take my time creating something beautiful.”