Hands-On Learning in the Warm Springs Motor Pool

A unique partnership between Jefferson County School Disrict 509J, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, and Central Oregon Community College (COCC) is driving forward new opportunities for high school students.

The COCC-509J automotive program isn’t just about changing oil and rotating tires; it’s about igniting a passion for automotive technology and setting students on a path to flourish. With three core objectives, this program aims to:

Equip students with Marketable Skills: In today’s fast-paced world, having practical skills can open doors to countless opportunities. The program empowers students with essential automotive repair skills, providing them with a competitive edge in the job market.

Explore the High-Tech World of Cars: Today’s automobiles are rolling computer networks. The program offers students a peek into this exciting world, sparking interest in high-tech car systems and laying the groundwork for a potential career in automotive technology.

Offer Dual Credit Opportunities: By offering dual credit for COCC college Auto Technology classes, the program encourages students to pursue higher education and explore a variety of automotive technology programs beyond high school whether that be at COCC or somewhere else.

“This program has taught me how to speak my mind and speak up when I think of something.” 

– Kenyan Foust

Bridges High Senior

The class is co-taught by COCC instructor, Jim Siekkenan and ROOTS Teacher Earl Simmons. One student that has been taking the course since it was first available is Kenyan Foust. He is a senior at Bridges High School this year and the program has sparked his interest in pursuing a career in automotive after high school. He plans on attending Wyoming Tech where the coursework revolves around the auto shop. 

Instead of being in a classroom with books, it’s like you’re working a regular job,” Foust said. “They try and make it as realistic as possible.”

In addition to the technical skills Foust has learned in the class, he credits the course for improving his confidence and being an active participant in class discussions. 

“I used to have the habit of just sitting back and being quiet,” he said. “But this program has taught me how to speak my mind and speak up when I think of something.”

Another student taking the course this semester is Velma Spino. She is currently a junior at Bridges High School. Her interest in cars is thanks to her father.

“I like working on cars with my dad because it is our way of bonding,” she said. 

Velma recruited some of her friends as well to take the course so they can all learn about automotive together. This term, they’ve learned a lot about brakes like different parts of brakes, brake fluids, how to change hoses, and more. She is enjoying the class so far. 

“My favorite part is getting to learn what it is like to work in a mechanic shop and everything,” Spino said. “Working with our teacher, Jim, is great because he explains everything well to me where I can understand it and he will give me a visual of it.” 

Each semester, students learn about a different automotive topic, from engines, to brakes, to electrical systems. Students in this program do not just learn off a computer screen, they get their hands dirty and learn through hands-on projects. With a focus on safety, problem-solving, and general automotive systems knowledge, students gain valuable insights into how vehicles work. For example, this term alone students will work on full brake jobs on a front discs/rear drums truck and a 4-wheel disc brake job. In addition, students will also work on getting engines running, change oil on cars, and learn about battery charging systems.

“We hope the students get excited by our infectious enthusiasm,” Siekkinen said.  “But also, it is great if these short classes help them understand it is not for them.  At a minimum, we hope they take away a problem-solving process and perhaps the ability to solve some of their own automotive problems.

“Working with our teacher, Jim, is great because he explains everything well to me where I can understand it and he will give me a visual of it.” 

– Velma Spino

Bridges High Junior

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