Sno-Isle Tech Skills Center auto body and collision repair teacher Shawn Fitzpatrick demonstrates how to use a VR headset students use for virtual car body painting. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Sno-Isle Tech Skills Center auto body and collision repair teacher Shawn Fitzpatrick demonstrates how to use a VR headset students use for virtual car body painting. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

There are some things students just shouldn’t try at home

Sno-Isle Tech will have limited in-person classes for a chance “to see it, feel it, touch it, do it.”

EVERETT — There are some things that teens can’t practice through remote education.

Using a gas torch, for example.

How is that even possible?

“That’s exactly what my teachers say,” said Wes Allen, director of Sno-Isle Tech Skills Center.

It’s Allen’s first year as head of the technical school that has 22 programs such as welding, animation, cosmetology and dental assisting.

And what a year this is.

“I joke things change every hour around here,” Allen said.

Sno-Isle Tech will have a full online curriculum for its 1,100 students starting Wednesday. Unlike other public schools in the county, the center also will offer in-person instruction.

But not in the pre-COVID-19 way.

In-person learning will be done in a limited capacity and mixed in with remote classes.

Students who attend a class will be with three of their peers once every two weeks for either 2.5-hour morning or afternoon sessions starting Sept. 14 at the complex at 9001 Airport Way in Everett.

No more than four students and one teacher can be in the same classroom. The school follows Snohomish Health District guidelines.

Of the 22 programs, the 12 offering in-person options include aerospace, auto, electronics, culinary and health fields. More programs will phase in classroom attendance over the course of the school year as restrictions are lessened.

Grades will be based solely on remote work. Allen called the in-person sessions “the carrot on top.”

Students are from 14 different districts and 44 high schools in Snohomish and Island counties. Between 35 and 40 students come from Whidbey Island every year.

Sno-Isle Tech is among 17 skill centers statewide that provide preparatory training, certification and post-secondary credit. Two other centers also are opening to students in a limited format.

Instructors were given the choice whether to teach remotely or in the school.

Bob “Welder Bob” Throndsen said he never considered not going into his welding classroom, though at 63 his age puts him in an at-risk category for coronavirus.

“We’re here for the kids,” Throndsen said. “Theory can be taught online. We instruct with the hands-on style. It is important to give them skills for their tool belt.”

Tools hang on the wall in the auto body repair classroom at Sno-Isle Tech Skills Center. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Tools hang on the wall in the auto body repair classroom at Sno-Isle Tech Skills Center. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

He has 56 students total in two classes. He’ll see eight a day.

Some aspects were already the norm.

“PPEs are a way of life, especially in our industry,” he said. “In a welding shop we’re all wearing respirators usually because of the smoke. It’s nothing new.”

Welding basics can be taught online.

“We dive right into safety,” Throndsen said. “We have a lot of safety before we let them touch anything anyway.”

A drawback: “I can’t turn them loose on some open shop days like I used to.”

Auto body repair instructor Shawn Fitzpatrick said the small-group sessions can be advantageous.

“It’s an opportunity,” he said. “I will have more hands-on time with these kids.”

The class covers the gamut of collision repair.

For example, car shops provide many of the damaged pieces students fix in his class using the tools of the trade.

“A kid will get their own bumper with multiple repairs and then multiple different strategies and they’ll paint it … and then they take it home,” Fitzpatrick said.

A $7,000 auto-painting simulator machine in his classroom is like a super-duper arcade game with a virtual reality headset. That can’t be done at home or at an arcade.

Allen said two custodians will be cleaning the entire day at Sno-Isle Tech.

Students also will be trained in industry protocols.

“You come to a machine, you clean it, then you use it and then you clean it again,” Allen said. “And even if you see the person cleaning it, you’re going to clean it again. Clean it, use it, clean it again.”

The new school year will be a learning experience for everyone.

“There’s a lot of things I wasn’t thinking of. Things that wake me up in the middle of the night going, ‘You’re actually opening up your campus?’” Allen said.

“It is the right thing to do. It’s what our students need and why they come to us. That opportunity to see it, feel it, touch it, do it.”

Andrea Brown: abrown@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

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