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Students forging career skills through Sno-Isle Tech Center

Students at the Sno-Isle Tech Center work on a Freightliner truck in the center's auto shop during a tour Dec. 18.

EVERETT — At one of the county’s most unique learning sites, the Sno-Isle Tech Skills Center, the Everett School Board was treated to a tour that engaged all five senses.
The shrimp bisque was an unusual entrée to the Dec. 18 school board visit, but it fit the venue: an innovative career preparatory school right across the street from Boeing.
The sophisticated soup and club sandwich luncheon was prepared and served by culinary arts students at the facility administered by the Mukilteo School District.
The high school students had signed on for one of 22 career preparatory programs that juniors and seniors attend during a half day on site, with the other half day spent at their local high school.
More than 900 students from 44 schools in 14 districts flock to Sno-Isle for the immersive career training from as far away as Darrington and South Whidbey Island.
New this year are Careers in Education, and Translation and Interpretation programs. The reason these were added is simple: “They are both high demand and high pay jobs,” said Sno-Isle assistant director Wes Allen.
Students who complete the education program are prepared to test for a paraeducator certification. Translation grads leave ready to take the Washington State Certification exam and land jobs in medical, educational or legal settings.
The programs are both part of Sno-Isle’s Human Services pathway. They offer four other pathways: Business and Marketing, Info Tech, Science and Health, and Trade and Industry.
With county unemployment rates at 3.5 percent, skilled graduates are highly sought after, particularly in manufacturing. The industry expects to have 2 million jobs it can not fill by 2025 according to a 2015 Manufacturing Institute report.
Tourgoers saw classrooms and computers, but also a horse barn, airplane, fire truck and salon.
In the Trade and Industry Diesel Power program, instructor Brent Delfel, a Sno-Isle alumnus, gestured to a pumpkin orange Freightliner truck. He described with pride how students had just diagnosed it that day. After two auto body shops had opted out on repairs, Sno-Isle students would be responsible for returning the vehicle to working order.
One board member was curious about gender divisions in traditionally male or female careers such as cosmetology and video game design. While enrollment varies from year to year, center director Maggie Bagwell said she had seen a shift over the past several years to more balanced co-ed classes.
The students’ experiences at Sno-Isle are a far cry from their parents’ and grandparents’ home economics or woodshop periods.
That’s the difference between career exploratory courses and preparatory courses, Bagwell explained to the school board.
For one, students participate in internships as part of many of the programs at local employers from Boeing to Providence. During others, they prepare business plans and portfolios. In all, there is a clear pathway to a career.
Boeing alone will need to fill 790,000 vacancies for pilots and 754,000 for maintenance techs over the next two decades, a gap Sno-Isle is helping prepare students to fill. 
The difference between exploratory classes and career-prep classes was evident when board members toured the working dental office, complete with a welcoming waiting room. Two dentists rotate in three times per week to see clients, assisted by Sno-Isle students.
“They focus on retired folks barely making ends meet,” said instructor Carol Scharnikow.
Dental students also fill a community need by assisting about 1,200 children with exams during an annual February event.
Half of the last contingent of 44 students had landed jobs in dentistry by graduation, Scharnikow said. “I get multiple calls weekly. There’s a huge demand.”
Medical assisting, criminal justice, fire science, welding, engineering tech and aerospace are other programs that marry students’ passions with paying jobs right out of school.
The tour showcased the distinct offerings, with board members noticing every program had its own smell, from the woody scent where tiny home models were being constructed, to the subtle scent of fur at the vet tech center to the diesel odor in the automotive building.
More than 1,300 students applied for the 2018-2019 year, so many that some initially had to be turned away. But as students change career interests or other circumstances change, enrollment drops. Bagwell says Sno-Isle currently has 924 enrolled and is typically able to accommodate every student who wants to attend.
Sno-Isle students don’t receive diplomas at the center: That happens at their local high schools, but nearly 92 percent complete their program, Bagwell said in a follow-up interview. The numbers stand up well to Snohomish County’s 2017 graduation rate of 79.5 percent and the Everett School District’s 92.9 percent rate.
“Eighty-one percent of graduates continue on in post-secondary educational pursuits, with approximately 11 percent matriculating directly to four-year university, 6 percent to military service, and 64 percent to two-year or technical schools,” Allen said.
Enrollment opens Feb. 7. Students complete an application and interview process, which Bagwell says is mostly to let the students interview the program to make sure it is the right fit.
Attendance is free. Class fees of $20 to $100 can be waived in cases of financial hardship.
Sno-Isle also offers a free three-week summer school program for students who will be entering ninth to 12th grade in the fall. There, they can test out the tech programs while earning a .5 college credit.
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