EVERETT — A group of teachers from around Snohomish and Island counties saw a problem.
There were industries that couldn’t hire people fast enough, and yet local students were graduating high school without the chance to have trained in those fields.
“It seemed like there were opportunities for employment, and we should be doing something more with the students to prepare them for that,” said Janet Carlson, who was a home economics teacher in Marysville when educators started talking about the need for a vocational school.
Carlson became the first director of the Sno-Isle Tech Skills Center. She helped lead planning for the campus and programs.
She intends to be there this weekend to celebrate the center’s 40th birthday.
Past and current teachers, students and industry partners are invited to festivities from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday on the Sno-Isle campus, 9001 Airport Road.
The skills center is a partnership with 14 school districts. High school juniors and seniors spend half days at the center learning a trade, with the goal of graduating ready for a career or the next steps in their education.
The first programs started in September 1977. Fashion merchandising and cosmetology lessons were at the Everett Mall while the campus was under construction.
The next year, the school opened with nine programs, among them machining, food service, dental assisting, welding and mechanics. By the time Carlson left in 1985, there were 15 programs. There now are 21, including animation, electronics engineering, culinary arts, medical or veterinary assisting, criminal justice, fire service technology and aerospace manufacturing.
In 1978, 400 students attended the skills center. There are 1,035 this year.
The campus sits on 25 acres and the Mukilteo School District acts as host for the programs, guided by advisory committees of managers and laborers in each field. Instructors are hired from their industries.
Brent Delfel was a student at the center from 1988 to 1990. Now, the Mariner High grad is an instructor. He’s been teaching diesel power technology since 2005.
Delfel came from a family of automotive experts. His first job was as a repair mechanic at a used truck dealership while he was at Sno-Isle. He participated, and won, at state and national competitions for students.
“My goal as an instructor is for students to leave my classroom and shop understanding what it takes to be an employee,” he said.
He doesn’t expect them to grasp every nuance of the trade but has high standards for professionalism, work ethic, communication and learning the language and tools of the industry. Hands-on projects put it all into practice. His son also is a student at Sno-Isle, in aerospace.
Things have changed since Delfel studied here. After a fire burned down a building in 2009, the campus got a major update. New equipment and programs have arrived. Students can use the courses for core requirements, such as math and English.
He hears people say Sno-Isle Tech is an alternative school for students who can’t excel in a traditional high school. That’s simply not true, he said. It’s a different type of learning, but it’s for any student.
He sees former pupils everywhere.
“If you’ve ever had a car worked on in a local shop, there’s a really, really good chance that the person working on your car went to the shop at Sno-Isle,” he said.
Richie del Puerto also was a student, from 1990 to 1991. The Snohomish High grad has been the instructor for automotive technology for 16 years. Like Delfel, he got his first job at a repair shop while he was a student.
At the time, there tended to be more shop classes in high schools. Now, students arrive without any experience. That makes a vocational campus essential.
“The thing that us staff members always say is that we’re the best-kept secret in Snohomish County,” del Puerto said. “I think the majority of people out there don’t realize what Sno-Isle is … We’re an untapped resource for so many juniors and seniors.”
Steven Hellyer studied computer networking at Sno-Isle while attending Marysville Pilchuck High School. He’s the IT director for the city of Everett.
He landed a job right out of high school, and worked through college. He never had to put his career on hold, and he credits Sno-Isle for that.
Having three-hour class periods to work with teams on projects was one of the best parts. He hopes the center continues to expand and focus on needs for the modern workforce.
Lee Anne Lumsden has seen the skills center adapt. She’s the animation instructor and taught graphics from 1988 to 2006. The graphics program was dropped as high schools added their own classes, and animation was added to meet a demand for skilled animators at hundreds of employers, from independent phone app creators to major video game studios.
She appreciates Sno-Isle because it lets students try a career and make important decisions about jobs or higher education before they finish high school.
“That internal slogan — we’re the best kept secret in Snohomish County — I hope it goes away,” Lumsden said. “I hope we become a more well-known school.”
Looking back at the past 40 years, Carlson, the center’s first director, is amazed. The courses, technology and people have changed, but the values never have.
“There’s a real kind of heart connection there, to that place and to the young people,” Carlson said. “We wanted them to have positive experiences and high expectations, and it worked really well.”
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; email@example.com.