When most students are just getting up, the automotive shop at Bellevue High is already bustling with activity.

The students, who come from Bellevue High as well as the greater Eastside, quickly form friendships as they are immersed in the theoretical and practical skills of automotive maintenance and repair.

“When you’re here, you’re family,” automotive technology teacher Pete McCue said.

On one recent morning students gathered around the engine of an Acura, elbow deep in removing the alternator as part of a unit on electrical systems.

“I’ve always been into engineering and cars,” Tom Gibbs, a senior from Issaquah High School, said. “I always wanted to start but didn’t know how. This (program) helped me get a feel for the field and working space that I would be in.”

The automotive program offerings include three classes that meet daily: a one-hour introductory class which is only open to Bellevue students, a morning three-hour class that includes one hour of lecture and two hours in the shop, and a two-hour class in the afternoon that includes one hour of classroom based learning and one hour in the shop. Both of the extended classes are open to students from across the greater Eastside through the WANIC CTE consortium.

The introductory class covers basic automotive maintenance including how to change the oil, how the engine works, an overview of the parts of a car, as well as other basic topic areas.

The extended class program is built over a two-year cycle with students learning the basics as well as four major areas: brakes, electrical, steering & suspension, and drivability, as well as four minor areas: engine repair, manual transmission, automatic transmission, and heating & air conditioning. The two extended classes cover the same content areas, with differing amounts of hands-on time in the shop.

“Electricity is probably the hardest unit we’ll be doing,” Bellevue High sophomore Luke Walker said. “Electricity is by any means a complex thing. It’s often not physical and you have to imagine what you’re working on half the time.

Walker said that he loves the challenge and working with his classmates; a sentiment that Gibbs agreed with.

“It’s by far my favorite class and it’s something I look forward to every day,” Gibbs said. “The people are awesome. The teacher is awesome. We get to have fun and go learn about cars.”

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In The Shop And Beyond

When asked about the highlights of the program students have a hard time picking just one aspect that stands out to them.

“I love every moment of class,” Ahria Vazinkhoo, a senior at Issaquah High School, said. “There hasn’t been a dull moment yet.

One of the hallmarks of the automotive technology program at Bellevue High is that students have the chance to take the student level of the Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification tests.

“A good technician should be a master certified tech and be certified in all eight areas,” McCue explained of the industry-standard certifications. He has the students take the tests at the beginning and end of the year so they can see how much they’ve grown.

Students get to put what they’re learning to the test through participating in competitions like Automotive Skills USA.

“Skills USA is kind of like mathletes for cars,” Gibbs explained.

Students compete at the regional level with the opportunity to go on to the state, and national competitions.

This year two students from the program, Walker and Ian Douglas, a sophomore at Newport, won cars for the shop to use as learning stations – a 2013 Cadillac ATS and a 2013 Corvette – at the regional Skills USA competition hosted by Shoreline Community College, which also donated the vehicles for the competition.

For the contest students participated in six practical tests and three written tests.

“When they called my name I was astounded,” Walker, who won the Corvette for the shop, said. “I did not expect that at all.”

The cars, which were delivered to the school in early March, will allow students to learn about automotive technology on newer models.

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A World of Opportunities

“I just absolutely fell in love with (the program) when I came here, and it’s something I definitely want to learn more about and do,” Gibbs said. “It has opened up a world of opportunities.”

One of McCue’s goals is to give students the knowledge and experiences they need to be able to continue in the field after high school.

“We always try to focus students on post-secondary education,” McCue said.

To that end, the Bellevue High program partners with multiple post-secondary partners and students do job shadows at local dealerships and independent shops.

“They get to meet the boss, the techs, and the service managers, and ask questions,” McCue said.

Several students have plans to go on to automotive programs at community colleges and then to engineering related fields, or plan to go directly to engineering programs.

Walker credits the program with helping him decide on what he wants to do after high school.

“That’s kind of a great thing – I had an epiphany about where I want to go with my career,” said Walker, who wants to become a technician and study mechanical engineering. “I’m happy that when I go into college I know what I’m going to be trying to do.”

No matter what students go on to, McCue said that he hopes that they’re passionate – about the automobile and about learning.

“You never stop learning,” McCue said. “There’s always something to learn and always something you don’t know. Whether they build the car, whether they fix cars, passion is key.”

Learn more about Automotive Technology and other courses by visiting our Career & Technical Education page.