For students who maybe aren’t on the path to a college degree and want to learn some real-world skills to take them into the job market after high school, the Spokane Skills Center, 4141 N. Regal St., has been around since 1982 teaching automotive skills, cosmetology, culinary arts and more.
But for students living in Spokane Valley, it can be a challenge to drive to Hillyard during the school day to get to the Skills Center.
Since the beginning of this school year, Valley students interested in fire science, cosmetology and medical office assistant skills can attend classes at 10314 E. Sprague Ave., in the old U-City building, just south of Les Schwab.
“A lot of our kids at the Skills Center come from East Valley, and Central Valley and Freeman,” said Scott Oakshott, director of the Valley satellite.
Although the new branch is only offering three programs, the old mall gives the program some growing room if it turns out to be a successful program.
“We have room here to expand,” said Dennis Conger, the Skills Center director.
“It would be my goal to have at least two more programs here next year,” Oakshott added.
The Skills Center is funded through the state Legislature and is hosted by Spokane Public Schools. Conger said he hopes that in coming years a Valley school district will step forward and host the Valley branch. Students come from about 33 different high schools representing 10 Spokane County school districts.
Oakshott said there are two goals of the Skills Center; to give students some marketable skills for something they have a desire to learn about and to help identify avenues of interest.
Students can earn community college credits, which will save some tuition fees if they attend those schools.
There are about 80 students attending the new center and Conger thinks those numbers could increase during the second semester.
One of the perks of attending the Skills Center is the chance to learn from people who work in the fields.
The Valley campus contracts with Studio Beauty School and Michelle Hodges is the instructor. Hodges said the students – about 42 of them – learn about running a salon. They complete a business plan which includes designing their own salon and, for extra credit, can present their business model to the other students.
Although the students are prohibited from working on clients, they all have a mannequin head they work on and they can shampoo and style other students’ hair.
They also learn about skin care, manicures and pedicures.
Hodges said if students stay in the class all year, they can earn about 400 hours of training that will carry over to beauty schools after high school. A state license requires about 1,600 hours of training.
Tawnya Benzo is the instructor in the medical assistant program. She said about seven students are learning about medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, transcriptions, and office skills such as typing and using a 10-key machine.
They are also trained in getting a patient’s vital signs and setting up patient exam rooms.
Students can earn up to 10 college credits after taking this class. Careers using the skills include billing and coding, medical office management, transcribing physician’s notes and working as an assistant for a chiropractor.
Fire science through the Skills Center isn’t anything new to Spokane Valley students. Last year, the course was taught at East Valley High School. It has now moved to the new facility and instructors employed through the Spokane Valley Fire Department teach the courses.
Shane Wharton, a full-time firefighter at Station 7 in Spokane Valley, said students learn about CPR, basic first aid, packaging patients for transport by putting them on a backboard or learning to put splints on a patient.
“It’s not geared specifically to becoming a career firefighter,” Wharton said. He said many students are interested in other aspects of the course, such as becoming EMTs or volunteering at a fire station.
Austin Watson, a 17-year-old junior from West Valley High School, said he heard about the program and thought it would be a good opportunity to learn and have fun doing it.
“This might be a career I would want to pursue,” Watson said.
He said the most surprising thing he has learned so far was about how to act when on the scene of a fire.
“Firefighters cannot run on the fire ground,” Watson said.
If students complete all of the classes in the fire science program, they can earn up to 17 credits that will go toward a fire science degree at Spokane Community College.
Each student – the programs are offered to juniors and seniors – spends about half a day at their home school and half a day at the Skills Center.
Future plans may include a summer school.