The new Pierce County Skills Center, a regional vocational-technical high school administered by the Bethel School District, is off to a grand start in its inaugural year, particularly in its brand-new campus located in Frederickson.
The Skills Center, a facility used by seven Pierce County School Districts, including Eatonville, Orting and Franklin Pierce besides Bethel, officially commenced classes last summer by conducting classes at Graham-Kapowsin High School and in Tacoma while construction on the new campus buildings rushed to completion by September 2010.
Currently, students meet in state-of-the-art tech classrooms in the Phase 1 Main Building, and the partially renovated Old Safeway Building, both located at the corner of 160th St and Canyon Rd.
“Wait until you see what we’ll have in Phase 2,” said a proud Bethel Superintendent, Tom Seigel, on Wednesday to a touring group from the Graham Business Association.
Phase 2 is awaiting a $11.5 million allocation from the Washington state legislature, and when granted PCSC will build facilities for a variety of technical trades, such as aerospace construction and automotive engineering.
The GBA members were clearly impressed with the operations they witnessed at the PCSC. Each classroom is a hands-on laboratory uniquely designed to fit the needs of the vocational course work, which presently includes pre-Physical Therapy, pre-Veterinarian Technology, pre-Medical Services, Internet game design and robotics.
The PCSC also has classes in fire services, paramedics and criminal justice. In addition, PCSC marine technology classes are held at Tacoma School District’s Foss High School while welding courses are held at Lincoln High School.
“The Skills Center doesn’t look anything like a typical high school,” PCSC liaison Lynne Truitt told the GBA. “How could you fit these six hospital beds in a regular classroom?” she asked as the group visited with a dozen students in a nurse’s assistant training lab.
The curriculum is just as innovative as the buildings.
Students in the pre-vet class were being taught how to care for an injured flying squirrel when the GBA toured, and had recently hosted a full-grown horse in the classroom for an up-close physical inspection.
The pre-vet lab even has a dog run outside, and has received regular visits from a variety of animals from the community – requiring an elevated scrutiny for diseases and fleas, which was plainly evidenced by the many signs advising students to carefully check their animals.
Along those lines, Ms. Truitt told the GBA that in Phase 2 the pre-vet class will launch a pet grooming business, with slight discounts offered as the students learn the nuances of professional pet care.
GBA member Nancy and Regis Jackson, owners of the Pet Ponderosa Pet Spa and Kennel highly praised the work of the PCSC, especially the pre-vet classes, as one of their young employees is also a PCSC student.
“We can really see the difference in her skill level and professional attitude since she’s been enrolled here,” Regis Jackson told the group.
The admiration for the Skills Center is also held by the students’ families. One proud mother, after learning that The Mountain News was preparing a story on the school, wrote TMN saying, “My daughter, who was home-schooled her entire life, is attending the Medical Sciences class…and is receiving a good, solid education…As you can see after your tour, this Center is fully ‘loaded’ with equipment the students will become familiar with and use in the ‘real world’ when employed….”
The daughter is also receiving college credit for her medical services class, as are many other students at the PCSC.
“Skills Center students receive dual credit,” Truitt told the GBA. “They receive credit towards their high school diploma, and they also received college credit if they continue their studies at one of the participating technical and community colleges, such as Bates.”
Besides Bates Technical, the PCSC also partners with Pierce College, Tacoma Community College, and Clover Park Technical College. In fact, Pierce College is currently negotiating with the PCSC to rent space at the Canyon Rd campus with the goal of holding classes there.
Ms. Truitt also said that the students at PCSC have advantages over the “Running Start” program – a course of study where high school students can attend classes at local community colleges.
“Skills Center students have fewer out-of-pocket expenses than if they were in Running Start, such as purchasing text books,” Truitt said, “and they can maintain a full presence at their home high schools.”
This means that PCSC students can enjoy their home school’s extra-curriculum activities, such as attending their proms and dances, and participating in sports.
Students attending the PCSC typically spend only a portion of their day on the campus and then return to their home school, usually via transportation provided by the students’ home districts. Classes are held at three intervals: early morning, mid-day and late afternoon, and a class generally runs three hours.
The PCSC currently has 320 students, a sizeable increase from the 180 they started with in September.
“We’re near maximum enrollment,” PCSC principal Jake Jackson recently told the Pierce County Council during their tour of the facility two weeks ago.
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Pictures of the Pre-Vet Class and horse provided courtesy of the PCSC