1.13.15: Automotive program is gateway to rewarding careers
1.13.15: Automotive program is gateway to rewarding careers
Posted on 01/12/2015

Olivia Klein knows exactly what she wants to do after high school, even though graduation is still a year and a half away.


“I just love cars,” said the teen as she reached under the hood to measure battery voltage. “I plan to go to Bellingham Technical College and study to become a diesel mechanic and do collision repair.”


In the meantime, Klein plans to learn all she can in the Puyallup High School automotive program and apply some of the new skills to help her father rebuild a 1975 custom Ford truck.


Eleventh grader Cole Newsome has automotive career dreams of his own.


Newsome is one of just five juniors accepted this year into Puyallup High School’s advanced automotive class. The class of 22 students is mostly made up of seniors who have successfully completed Auto Tech I and Auto Tech II classes.


“My dream is to one day own my own auto shop,” he said.


Klein and Newsome are among 140 students who have filled Puyallup High’s automotive classes to capacity this year, with more students waiting to get in.


The magnet Career and Technical Education (CTE) program, which draws high school students from throughout the school district, prepares teens for technical careers within the automotive field.


State-of-the-art technology


The automotive program features state-of-the-art equipment used in the industry, training from industry experts, and hands-on experience using vehicles donated by community partners and equipped with the latest technology.


Students apply technical knowledge and skills learned in class to repair, service, and maintain different sizes and makes of vehicles in an 8,000-square-foot auto shop adjacent to the classroom.


In the process, students learn about brake and electrical systems, engine performance and repairs, suspension and steering, automatic and manual transmissions and drive trains, and heating and air-conditioning systems.


Students accepted into the advanced program have opportunities to work toward nationally recognized Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certifications before they even leave high school. They can also apply for paid internships at local dealerships and other automotive-related businesses.


“When finished, students can use what they have learned to access the next step of their education, whether it be as an entry-level automotive technician in the workforce or as a student in a post-secondary institution in pursuit of an advanced degree or certificate,” said Mark Knight, executive director of College and Career Readiness.


Knight continued, “Many local dealerships view our program as the gold standard in our area and as a result have donated time, expertise, and resources to help make the program successful.”


 Teacher builds partnerships


Automotive instructor Larry Turner, who has been teaching at Puyallup High the past 24 years, has built numerous partnerships over the years with local automotive businesses.


Representatives from many of these businesses serve with Turner on a 66-member CTE automotive advisory committee, which meets regularly to discuss industry standards and partnerships with the high school.


 The high school has also partnered with area community and technical colleges to offer automotive program students the opportunity to earn dual course credit.


Students are eligible for college credit at Clover Park Technical College, Green River Community College, and Renton Technical College if they earn a “B” or better in most automotive classes.


Many of the students enrolled in automotive classes are also active in the school’s “Viking Motorsports” club. Students have T-shirts printed with the name and a purple and gold logo to wear at events and club meetings.


 The club meets once a week for an hour or two after school and is a time for students who are passionate about cars to get more hands-on vehicle work outside of the regular school day. This year club members are working to restore a 1968 Chevy C10 truck that had been found abandoned in a field.


 “A lot of us know how to do maintenance on a car, but not how to refurbish a vehicle,” said club President Chad Squire, a senior this year.


The club also sponsors the automotive program’s annual fundraiser — a car show held each May on the Puyallup High School campus.


Community members are invited to show their cars, and proceeds from the registration fees support the automotive program.


About one-third of the students who sign up for the beginning automotive class go on to take Auto II and Auto III, Turner said. Acceptance into the advanced class is contingent on a student’s overall grades and whether they have a clean driving record, he said.


Eleventh grader Abby Witham said she signed up for the beginning class because “I think everyone should know a little bit about their cars so they can do basic maintenance or repairs.”


While automotive-related jobs are not something she plans to pursue as a career, Witham said she enjoyed the beginning class so much that she enrolled in the next level this year.


“I found out I really enjoy this,” she said. “Cars are really basic when you get down to it. You just need to know the different systems that make them work.”