Decatur automotive students learn skills that pay the bills

Decatur High School automotive instructor Luke Thompson teaches about 100 students each semester the ins and outs of automotive care.  - Kyra Low/The Mirror
Decatur High School automotive instructor Luke Thompson teaches about 100 students each semester the ins and outs of automotive care.
— image credit: Kyra Low/The Mirror

Students at Decatur High School are getting classroom-based hands-on experience that could one day lead to a leg up in the job market.

About half of the 10 seniors graduating this year, who have stayed with the program throughout high school, plan on continuing into a career in the automotive industry, said instructor Luke Thompson.

The program at Decatur just keeps getting better. Through the program, students were already competitive for entry-level jobs at dealerships, private garages, oil-changing service stations and tire-changing service stations.

For the first time, the students in the program have qualified for all four competitions they were eligible, even coming close to national competition run.

The program

There are about 100 students in the Decatur program, Thompson said. About half of those are returning students, who have had at least one semester of the class. Once students have learned the basics of maintenance and how a car works, they can return to learn about the brake, steering and suspension systems, then the electrical aspects of car repair.

"That's a huge majority of auto care now," Thompson said.

The school participates in the SkillsUSA program, which has a national exit exam that students can take to prove they know the industry standards. The program also partners with local community colleges so students can earn college credit while still in high school, Thompson said.

Cars are donated to the program. There are a couple of old police cars, some GM donated cars, donations from Shoreline Community College and some donations from the community.

All that practice really leads up to the competitions.

"It's the best learning experience," Thompson said. "It puts them under pressure and they have to show their skills."

This year's wins

The program's team of Brandon Hanline and Daniel Hench won second place at the Great New York Auto Dealers Washington State Contest.

First place won a trip to New York for the auto show.

"Maybe next year," Thompson said.

In the SkillsUSA Regional Contest for the Puget Sound region, students from Decatur won first, second, third and tenth out of 26 contestants in the automotive maintenance. Also out of 26 contestants, Decatur students received sixth and ninth place in Automotive Service.

They followed that up with the SkillsUSA State Contest on April 16, where out of 28 contestants in Automotive Maintenance, Spencer Swanson took fourth, Taylor Sobus took eighth and Kieran Bronson-Doherty took ninth place.

The team was then invited to the Ford/AAA Auto Skills State Contest on May 4, which allows the top 10 teams in the state to compete. The team of Hench and Bronson-Doherty took fifth place.

According to Thompson, the Ford competition is the biggest and most important one in the nation.

First place gets a trip to Detroit for the national competition.

Decatur was the only school at the competition that hadn't been there the year before, Thompson said.

"This is our football game," Thompson said. "This is our way to go head to head with other schools. The guys just love to compete, that's what's really neat about it."

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