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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Good Career Moves High School Students Take Jobs That Fit With Long-Term Goals

In summertime, Jamie Tracy rakes the gravel paths at Cat Tales until she thinks her arms are going to fall off. Then she rakes more.

In winter, she shovels snow.

But she keeps coming back to the non-profit zoo, hungry for experience handling the tigers and other endangered cats. As a volunteer zookeeper, she cleans pens and feeds the leopards, cougars and other big cats.

Tracy, a 17-year-old senior at West Valley High School, hopes her experience at Cat Tales, plus a college degree in biology, will help launch her career. Her ideal job: working with the killer whales at SeaWorld in San Diego.

Last month, a professional-technical educator who visited Spokane told parents that they should help their high school-age children focus on careers connected to things they love, and to guide them away from dead-end jobs. Many high school students take jobs that will fill their gas tanks. But Tracy and a handful of others are working or volunteering in jobs that offer a head start on careers.

Joey Tilton, 17, is an electronics wizard. Springboarding off experience that started this summer at Aspen Sound, he hopes to maybe open his own stereo shop someday.

Naomi Bland, 16, wants to be a veterinarian. She’s starting now, gaining volunteer experience at Harvard Gentle Care Animal Hospital.

Matt Wear, 18, got a lot of computer experience at an unusually early age. Now he’s earning money as a computer technician.

Tracy knew she wanted to work at a zoo and used the yellow pages to find Cat Tales. When she filled out the application, she added a sheaf of recommendations. It worked. She is among about 14 volunteers at the non-profit animal center north of Spokane.

Now the West Valley student has 18 months experience with the big cats. She punctuates a tour at Cat Tales with statistics and descriptions of each cat’s personality.

She dishes out treats - raw, skinned chicken necks that look like floppy pink cigars. The cats seem to swallow them whole.

“The necks are good for snacks because they’re made of cartilage, not bone. They act kind of like a toothbrush,” Tracy says.

Tracy likes working around the cats, hearing the loud purrs of the mountain lions; wooing Kalki, a leopard who barely tolerates people; being able to stroke the tamer cats; even the responsibility of being the lead cleaner when it’s time to scoop the cages clean.

If this energetic senior hopes to work with marine mammals, what’s she doing with cougars and tigers and lions? “I figure if I’m brave enough to work with the big cats, they’ll know I won’t have any problems working with the dolphins and killer whales,” Tracy said.

Tilton is a young entrepreneur.

He’s worked for his father’s excavation business. He’s made money plowing snow. And he parlayed his love of stereo equipment into a summer job doing something he loves: electronics.

“I’m the guy who hired Joey,” said Mike Todd, who heads the installation department at the shop. “He’s just the way I was in high school.”

One of Tilton’s projects at Aspen Sound was to build a competition-level sound system - $20,000 worth of components in a Chevy king-cab truck. It has a combination TV and navigational system up front, and the bed of the truck is filled, wall to wall, with speakers and such.

“I realized that it didn’t come that hard to me,” said Tilton, explaining why he enjoys the work.

Even years ago, that was true. When he was in third grade at Otis Orchards Elementary School, other teachers started borrowing him to fix VCRs. Now a senior at East Valley High School, he runs the sound system for all school events.

Tilton hopes to work at Aspen Sound again next summer. But this winter, he’ll go short on sleep every time it snows, with his commercial snow-plowing.

“I made a lot of money at it last winter,” Tilton said.

Bland is working on one of the prerequisites for veterinary school. Most vet schools, said Bland’s employer Dr. Julie Clark, demand that students have 300 hours experience in a vet clinic before they’ll accept an application.

Bland earns $6 an hour, working for Clark’s Harvard Gentle Care Animal Hospital. She started last May as a volunteer.

“I watched a lot, made a lot of mistakes, and learned what to use where. They were really patient,” Bland said. In September she was hired.

Now, she readies equipment for Clark to draw blood, cleans cages and attends surgeries.

“She asks good questions. And I don’t have to tell her what the animals need. She notices if an animal needs water, or walking.” Clark said.

Bland connected with the clinic through SOCS - Student Oriented Community Service, an East Valley High program that links students with community service opportunities.

Wear, computer technician in training, has put together several computers, including one for his grandfather.

That experience helped lead him to Computer Renaissance. The Valley business buys, upgrades and resells used computer equipment.

Wear’s job is to test the incoming equipment. He makes $5.35 an hour and is heading into a career with strong earning potential.

Wear is a senior at East Valley. He’ll pursue either a two-year computer technician program or a four-year computer science degree.

He found his part-time job through a new class at East Valley, school-to-career.

As its name implies, the class is designed to help students start thinking constructively about careers. Teacher John Twining leads students through resume writing, cover letters and job shadowing. The students arrange for guest speakers and their own internships.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 color)

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