EVERETT — Brent Delfel is accustomed to an auto shop full of students wanting to learn about diesel engines.
These days, when he shouts instructions his words ricochet off the walls and car parts lining the work space: “Don’t force it! Loosen up the thumb wheel!”
On a late January morning, Delfel was supervising three students as they worked together to adjust a set of truck wheel bearings, a repair he finds rewarding to teach because it requires precision at every step. In this era of COVID-19 restrictions, they were the privileged few allowed into the classroom that day.
Delfel teaches diesel power technology at Sno-Isle Tech Skills Center, a public school that offers dozens of technical training programs to local high school students.
For Sean Kelly, one of Delfel’s students, this hands-on challenge comes as a refreshing escape from the emotional drain of virtual learning.
“It’s been super nice to actually get into a class, have the teacher physically talk to you and do physical work — instead of just Zoom,” Kelly said in an interview. “I have a hard time focusing with online classes, and it’s not fun.”
A senior at Everett High School, Kelly spends the majority of his school time slumped over a computer keyboard.
But the 2½-hour block he gets to spend in the shop twice a month provides an opportunity to stretch both his body and mind. It is a time to be savored.
“My favorite part of class is being able to work hands-on, crawl around inside of cars and learn how everything works inside their systems,” he said.
Kelly is one of 950 students at Sno-Isle Tech who come from 14 districts and 44 high schools in Snohomish and Island counties. The school has taught students online since the onset of the pandemic, but it also offers limited face-to-face education. Since September, students have enrolled in classes on campus in 12 of the 22 programs, including diesel power technology, welding and culinary arts.
Right now, these windows allow four students to meet one teacher on the Sno-Isle campus at 9001 Airport Way in Everett.
Starting Feb. 16, the school plans to increase group sizes to eight students apiece who will meet 2½ hours once a week, Sno-Isle director Wes Allen said. Attending in person will still be optional. Students are only graded on remote work.
“We can teach and assess theory online, but when they (the students) get here, they want to touch the equipment,” said Bob Throndsen, a Sno-Isle teacher known as “Welder Bob” to his students. “The social aspect of being here on the school’s campus is tremendous. We are the reason kids get out of bed in the morning, and we make changes in their lives that we hear about all the time from parents, grandparents and guardians.”
Throndsen loves seeing students learn to be patient as they seek to master technical subjects.
For Kelly, keeping track of every detail in a repair is a challenge — but it’s good practice that has helped him at his current job at FS AutoWorx, a diesel engine repair shop in Monroe.
“I wasn’t the most confident kid my first year, and I knew nothing about cars,” he said. “This year I’ve felt a lot better and have been doing things on my own.”
Sno-Isle Tech is one of 17 skills centers in Washington that provide job-specific training, certification and post-secondary credit.
“We’re teaching these kids how to sell themselves and be a better asset to society,” Throndsen said. “We’re trying to give them the skills on their tool belts that they can use in the future to be job-ready.”