Revving up a new program

Roseburg High revives automotive program

Roseburg High School senior Rose Berry has seen first-hand how the school’s Career and Technical Education programs have helped students plan for life after graduation.

Some students, she said, take classes and come to realize that even though they may struggle with traditional academics, there are avenues to build skill sets that can lead to great careers.

Automotive industry leaders and Roseburg High School representatives gather in the school’s revamped auto shop recently.

“Some kids don’t learn well in school, some kids are more hands-on,” said Berry, who is participating in the school’s three-year agriculture program. “I’m very much that way. I enjoy English and math, kind of, but I would so much rather be out in the forest.”

Berry has also learned welding, and when the opportunity to participate in RHS’s new automotive program came up this year, she took it. She is among about 150 students who signed up for the program made possible through funding from Measure 98, the High School Graduation and College and Career Readiness Act.

Automotive instructor Don Zell is leading the program and will be teaching the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation standards. The three-year program is geared primarily toward freshmen and sophomores interested in completing the full curriculum. Those who complete the program can earn industry-accepted Automotive Service Excellence certifications, making them ready to jump into the field right after high school, or setting them up to continue their education and gain additional certifications.

“They can get the same certification here as they can from a private school, and it’s free,” Zell said, adding that the school is also working to incorporate college credit opportunities.

Prior to the start of the school year, on Aug. 29, Zell invited local leaders from the automotive industry to the school’s shop to learn about the program and see how the school and industry can best work together. Among the attendees were Sean Holtzclaw, Roseburg Honda service manager; Dan Smith, Les Schwab service manager; Steele Witckek of Universal Technical Institute; Kevin Mathweg, Umpqua Community College automotive instructor; Jake Gwin of Hunter Equipment; and David Weir of Mobile Tune.

Roseburg High School senior Rose Berry talks with local automotive industry leaders in the school’s auto shop recently.

Discussions included possible donations to the program, as well as chances to invite industry leaders into classrooms and to hold field trips to auto shops and other businesses.

Those in the industry say there is a serious need for qualified employees such as technicians, mechanics and other automotive experts.

Joseph Lee Heartley, who has worked at NAPA Auto Parts in Roseburg for 25 years, attended the community meeting and said he is excited to see the program returning. He took auto shop at RHS before graduating in 1981.

Heartley said he knows of local businesses that are desperate for employees.

“Is this a step to get people in the right direction? Absolutely,” Heartley said. “Get more people into the industry whether it’s (mechanics), parts, it doesn’t matter, they need more.”

It’s a sentiment RHS officials have heard before from other industries in the county. The school’s CTE programs are intended to fill the gap while serving students who may not have the desire or the means to attend a college or university.

“One thing we noticed and have constantly been told by the community is there hasn’t necessarily been an avenue for the students to exit out of high school and go directly into the workforce with the skills, and especially soft skills, to be successful,” said RHS Assistant Principal Brett Steinacher.

Industry experts aren’t the only ones excited for the new auto program. Steinacher said in a survey of students regarding CTE programs, auto shop was the most requested.

Of course, technological advances in the industry over the years mean that the RHS program won’t look like auto shops of the past. Long gone are the days of rebuilding engines and transmissions in what resembled hobby shops more than classrooms. New technology means a heavy emphasis on electronics, for example, while the courses teach to specific qualifications.

“Now it’s very specific, it’s structured,” Zell said. “You can actually tell the kids are learning it.”

Berry, who plans to become a heavy machinery operator outside of high school, said she’s grateful to have been able to learn new skills through the school’s CTE programs. Any new skills, including the soft skills integrated with the programs, increase the chance of students finding jobs.

“All the CTE programs are making it about employability and finding your little niche,” she said.

The returning automotive program is one of the many ways that schools across Douglas County are providing career connected learning experiences for our students. Doors are being opened to bright futures for students and our communities.


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