A Different Path To Success For Washington State High-Schoolers: Career And Tech Ed

A Different Path To Success For Washington State High-Schoolers: Career And Tech Ed
Career and Technical Education (CTE) classrooms like that of automotive technology instructor Pete McCue at Bellevue High School (seen here) give students market-driven job training at a crucial juncture. Photo: Mike Richards.

A group of high school students armed with flashlights and protective glasses peer into a car hood, reaching in to make adjustments. Nearby, another team stands underneath a propped-up vehicle, looking at alignment. Next to them, students are testing tires on a balancing machine. This is a typical hands-on day for automotive technology students at Bellevue High School (BHS), in one of the school’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses.

CTE classes like those in Bellevue are boosting high school graduation rates by as much as 42 percent according to one report, and helping assure postsecondary employment across the country. Many of Washington’s public high schools have access to CTE learning, but only a handful have proper equipment on-site, like BHS. Often, this forces students to travel to one of 14 CTE skill centers in the state.

State lawmakers emphasize the crucial role of CTE. “A lot of programs are only offered in skill centers. I would like to expand opportunities within high schools so students don’t have to choose between CTE and a college track, and (can) still keep options open for college,” said State Rep Chad Magendanz (R-5), Ranking Minority Member of the House Education Committee.

Market-Driven Job Training That Starts In High School

CTE programs that lead students to work in technical skill fields “are very strong and driven by market factors…it is very connected to business,” said State Rep. Chris Reykdal (D-22). He is co-Vice Chair of the House Education Committee.

“There is very clear evidence that not all children learn in the same manner and that for some students, applied learning experiences are a more effective way to ensure…core academic concepts” are fully absorbed, said State Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos (D-37). She is chair of the House Education Committee.

Jobs in Washington for automotive service technicians and mechanics are projected to grow by 2.3 percent; from 15,830 in 2015 to 16,190 in 2017. After CTE coursework in high school, a post-secondary associate’s degree is typically required.

Better Work Ethic

Chad Brintnall, Service Manager at Chaplin’s Bellevue Volkswagen and Subaru, told Lens a good portion of his technicians have taken a high school CTE program at some point. Brintnall said they have a more professional edge, and a non-CTE program graduate is more likely to cut corners and not follow directions.

Pete McCue has been teaching automotive technology CTE classes at BHS for three years. “Kids won’t learn if they only touch cars all day. I don’t think kids learn if they only touch books all day. They need dexterity and the scientific method to diagnose, verify, (and) come up with a hypothesis for how to fix it,” McCue told Lens.

McCue said his students visit local car dealerships, introduce themselves to the manager and shadow a technician for two hours each week. McCue’s class is part of the Washington Network for Innovative Careers (WANIC), an association of seven school districts sharing CTE programs. It includes Bellevue, Issaquah and Lake Washington.

Completing the BHS automotive tech program counts as 10 engineering, science and technology credits at Lake Washington Institute of Technology, and one year of work towards the adult Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) test requirementStudents in McCue’s class take any variety of student ASE tests that include engine repair, engine performance, and brakes. 

Prepared For Workplace Learning

“[CTE graduates] come to us probably the most prepared to accept and understand the learning of the dealership workplace,” said Derrick Albrecht, Service and Parts Director at Lexus of Bellevue, “and it all starts with Pete and his initial background and great support at the high school level.”

Ahria Vazinkhoo, technician at Lexus of Bellevue, told Lens he commuted daily to McCue’s class at BHS and graduated this past June from Issaquah High School. “I came in with a love for car shows and building things. [McCue] just amplified it even more than before. Everything he taught me I use every single day of my life,” said Vazinkhoo. 

He now takes classes at Shoreline Community College and works at the dealership under Toyota’s Technician Training and Education Network (T-TEN) programT-TEN is a two-year program that involves periods of class study and paid dealership training. Students graduate with an Associate Degree in Applied Arts and Sciences, as well as a hired position at the sponsoring dealership.

Albrecht said retiring technicians and a lack of new entrants had created a skills gap. “The last five years it has been a glaring issue which is why I committed to inspiring at the high school level, and not just fishing at community colleges,” which were very hit or miss on longer-term outcomes, added Albrecht.

‘The Reason I Get Up to Go To School’

“I think I am going to have a huge jump on other people that are applying to go to technical schools,” said Logan Gregory, a senior at Newport High School in Bellevue. McCue’s class “is the reason I get up to go to school,” said Gregory. “Last year I wanted to drop out, but if I dropped out I wouldn’t get to take this class. I am motivated to finish high school because of this class.”

Gregory currently commutes to McCue’s class and is in his second year of the program. He plans to complete two years at Bellevue College or go straight into technical school after high school.

Washington’s 9-12 grade CTE programs used approximately $349.8 million in state funding during the 2015-16 school year. That is an increase from an estimated $334.5 million during the preceding school year.

“One of the challenges is that CTE education is a little more costly, “said Santos. We need to provide “these programs and school buildings with the equipment that students need to resemble the work experience.”

Magendanz said he expects the legislature to look at expanding CTE programs as a budget priority, but it is “too early to determine what the vehicle might be.”

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