TOMBSTONE — Wearing protective jackets, full-face welding helmets and special gloves, Tombstone High School students enrolled in Amber Ford’s Agriscience III class are learning basic welding skills for the first time.

It’s a blustery morning as eight students step into a welding patio with an awning cover, half-wall and protective shields. On this day, they’re learning how to “strike an arc and lay a bead” as they work on arc welding basics.

“Arc welding is a very useful skill with numerous applications in agriculture,” said Ford, who holds a masters in agricultural education out of the University of Arizona. “I learned welding at the UofA, and am really excited that we’re able to add this unit to our agriculture program at the high school level.”

The students are learning the basic fundamentals they’ll need to advance their welding skills in future classes if they choose to continue in that direction, Ford added.

Ford’s agriscience program has an enrollment of about 100 welding students, with 11 in the inaugural welding unit. After they master arc-welding, the students will be moving onto oxy-acetylene welding, a process that uses a gas mixture of oxygen and acetylene to create a flame capable of melting two metals together to form a bond.

Welding provides students with lucrative career options, said THS Principal David Thursby.

“It’s used in the agriculture industry for fences, machinery and animal facilities, and it’s used in manufacturing and construction,” he said. “It’s a great trade for students who may not be interested in attending a university, but prefer a college certification” he added. “Cochise College offers a popular welding certification program.”

THS senior Cameron Cooper has been enrolled in Tombstone’s agriscience classes all four years of high school.

“You learn so much in this program,” he said. “Not just the welding that we’re doing right now, but we learn about animal and plant sciences.”

Cooper plans to continue developing his welding skills, with plans of using them after he graduates from high school.

“I want to go into the Navy and do underwater arc welding, so I’m glad they’re offering this opportunity at our school,” he said.

Sophomore Skyler Mazzanti has different plans for her new skillset.

“I live in Hereford and have livestock at home,” she said. “Learning basic welding skills is something I can use at home when we need to fix fences and other things around our property.”

Tombstone High acquired the welding equipment last year, but school closures due to COVID prevented the program from starting as planned, Ford said.

While the students are working under a temporary structure for now, Ford said the school district is planning to add an agricultural science facility to its campus.

“We intend to have an ag-mechanics shop with a classroom and laboratory space. The new building will also include a storage facility and the entire project will be designed with room to expand,” Ford said.

“Plans for the addition have been in place for a few years now, and the district hopes to break ground this summer.”