My turn: High school's auto shop fills important role

Posted: Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Recently a student entered my classroom grinning from ear to ear.

Covered in automotive grease, the student showed me a picture of his "car." This car was a series of parts, that over the next several months, perhaps years, would be lovingly and painstakingly assembled into the figurative, "bitchin' Camaro."

This student has taken numerous history classes with me, and has done well. Do his eyes light up when I speak of Caesar or Socrates, or some other story of history? Maybe. It pales in comparison to the emotion that student shared when showing me his excitement of putting his dream car together.

That same student may not have the chance to take auto shop next year at Juneau-Douglas High School. He may not get to come into my class and tell me about the brake job he just completed, or about any other valuable skill he learned in auto shop.

Instead, there will be only memories of the more than 3,000 students who have come to school to experience auto shop at JDHS. For the last 25 years we have shared the University of Alaska Southeast building that houses our high school auto shop program. UAS informs us those ties were severed and as of next fall our students will have to find an alternate course to take during their school day.

Almost 50 percent of our students in Juneau end up in a trade career. Not all of those will end up in the auto industry, but many of them will have taken auto shop at our beloved high school.

Across the country vocational education programs are growing while ours is shrinking. We have the opportunity to teach young people valuable skills that will last a lifetime regardless of career choice. But more importantly, we are inspiring some young people to go into an automotive career. The automotive program helps to curb the drop out rate. The automotive program, and all of our elective programs need to be supported and course offerings increased.

Our 25-year partnership with UAS is in jeopardy, but I believe there is still hope. We need our community, our teachers, and our leaders to support keeping auto shop in that very UAS building on the JDHS campus. The reasons for the "break up" aren't abundantly clear, and I am hoping through open dialogue that we will learn why the school district and factions of UAS came to this decision.

Our partnership with UAS is vitally important. Many of our students graduate from JDHS and attend the university. Eliminating this program from JDHS is a mistake. Education must be relevant and reflect the needs of the community. We should be adding vocational education courses at our schools, not eliminating them. Vocational education has a place in the 21st century. Offering vocational ed classes keeps students engaged and involved in high school.

• Gretchen Kriegmont is a teacher at Juneau-Douglas High School.

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