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Technical centers put future in students’ hands

Tawnessa Cline, 18, a veterinary science student at the NEWTECH Skill Center, spends some quality time with Felix, a class ferret, on Wednesday. Spokane’s two career and technical education centers have seen rapid growth. (Colin Mulvany)
Tawnessa Cline, 18, a veterinary science student at the NEWTECH Skill Center, spends some quality time with Felix, a class ferret, on Wednesday. Spokane’s two career and technical education centers have seen rapid growth. (Colin Mulvany)

Tawnessa Cline no longer shies away from science.

Instead, the 18-year-old embraces the challenge as a must for her chosen career: animal care.

The East Valley High School student discovered her passion while attending veterinary assistant classes at Spokane Public Schools’ NEWTECH Skill Center.

She considers the class a touch of serendipity.

“My grades have improved. It is way more rewarding than any other class I’ve taken in high school,” Cline said. It’s helped me discover what I really wanted to do.”

She added, “It will not only help me get a job as a veterinary assistant, but continue my education to become a veterinary technician.”

Spokane’s two career and technical education centers are growing rapidly because of students such as Cline. Teenagers attending Central Valley’s Spokane Valley Tech and Spokane’s NEWTECH like the hands-on experiences and the glimpses into a professional job, as well as the opportunity to earn college credit or a professional certificate before graduating from high school.

“It helps you concentrate on what you want to be,” Cline said.

Spokane Public Schools began new construction last week that will add 37,000 square feet to accommodate enrollment that has grown 10 percent each year during the past four years.

NEWTECH opened in 1981 to teach students the right skills for area jobs. Though it remains focused on its original mission, the center has added emphasis on academics and an ability to earn professional certificates.

“We have three goals or outcomes for our kids: social, academic and technical,” said Will Sarett, NEWTECH Skill Center director.

The kids are taught problem solving, leadership skills, how to interview for a job and retain employment, and appropriate work behavior – “things that help kids be good employees once they leave us and we teach kids what that looks like in the particular profession they are considering,” he said.

Science and social studies credits have been added to the curriculum so students can get what they need while attending school at the center, and learn it through the lens of whatever they are studying. For example, if a student is studying veterinary medicine, then the science credit they take pertains to that.

Students are able to earn industry certifications in automotive, culinary arts, welding, medical sciences and computer technology.

The goal is that every student will be able to earn one certification in the industry they are studying before they leave, Sarett said.

“We want to produce kids that are career-ready. We want multiple exit points for our kids,” he said. “A kid who wants to go to WSU and study veterinary medicine, we want to enable them to do that, or a kid who wants to be a veterinary assistant can go do that.”

Central Valley School District’s Spokane Valley Tech wants to do the same for its students. Spokane Valley Tech opened in 2012 and saw a 45 percent increase in enrollment this year compared to last year. District officials have spent two years modernizing a 51,000-square-foot building to create classroom spaces.

The new center is popular and “word is spreading,” district spokeswoman Melanie Rose said. “It’s a different learning environment. It’s much smaller classes than a contemporary classroom,” Rose said. “It’s also popular because of the types of programs, it’s very specialized. We are preparing students for a lot of different career paths.”

Spokane Valley Tech offers classes in aerospace and advanced manufacturing, which includes certifications in forklift driving and flagging through Spokane Community College; advanced biomedical and engineering applications; business and entrepreneurship classes in which students can earn from five to 30 credits at SCC; cosmetology classes in which students can earn up to 700 hours toward their state license; and fire science and emergency medical services with the possibility of earning up to 13 credits at SCC.

“It’s great to give kids options,” Rose said. “We’re glad we can offer it in the Valley.”

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