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Posted: Sunday, November 15, 2009

"Auto is a hands-on class, but they hand you a book and say 'Good luck.'"

- Glenn Hoskinson, senior at Juneau-Douglas High School

Imagine taking a chef class and only being able to use the oven once or twice a week. Imagine taking a computer graphics class and hardly touching a computer.

Imagine taking a dance class and reading about dance from a textbook. Absurd, you think. But that is what is happening with the high school automotive classes.

"I don't think we are spending enough time in the lab," said automotive teacher Steve Squires. "It's pretty restrictive, especially on Mondays and Fridays."

The cost to use the University of Alaska Southeast lab, according to Squires, is $40,000 for eight hours of use a week. The cost is restrictive, but spending more time working on real cars would be the best for the students. You can't learn how to fix small engines out of a textbook. In order to learn these skills you have to do have hands-on experiences.

In the beginning of the year, the teacher hands out an academic discipline plan and asks you to pay a "lab fee." This is because the classes do not have a very big budget, and Squires teaches five periods a day.

It's extremely hard for him to afford to buy supplies like oil or anything else you need to fix a small engine or an automotive engine. If the state would give the vocational part of our school a grant for supplies, the kids would have more time in the shop working hands on and less time with their noses in books reading about hands-on skills.

The students in Squires' auto classes win national awards, but in the past they've received little support from the school district.

If you look in Squires' room, all the awards they have won are sitting on his windowsill. If you go look in the commons in the trophy case you'll find trophies from all the sports teams but not the auto class.

"I'm proud of automotive students' accomplishments," Squires said. "It would be nice to get equal recognition to other groups for awards that they have won."

The students in his class would feel more appreciated if they were more recognized and recognition would send the message that vocational classes are worthy. There still seems to be an attitude that vocational classes are not challenging or that they are only for students who don't want to go or can't go to college.

"The school supports the vocational classes to some extent but some other activities get more support," Squires said.

Vocational classes could use more, or equal support. If the vocational classes got more support, we would be able to afford more supplies and newer engines or better cars to work on.

With the proper funding the turn-out of the trades industries would increase. Also, they would start attracting more students to join the vocational classes that are offered at JDHS, which would in turn increase the amount of supplies and money the programs would make.

Not everyone can or should go to college. The trades can prepare us for real, well-paid jobs as plumbers, electricians, mechanics, contractors, carpenters, etc.

Ultimately the point I'm trying to get across is that these classes are as important as any other class.

• Michael Bogert is a senior at JDHS, enrolled in Ali McKenna's Writing for Publication class. After graduation, he plans on working for two years as a commercial fisherman or in the trades industry. Then he plans to attend college.

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