Want to fix a car? Build a boat? Manage a park? Henderson Bay student are learning on-the-job training in pilot program

Henderson Bay students learn in adult workplaces

Internships with local organizations and businesses allow Henderson Bay High students to experience more than classroom learning.
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Internships with local organizations and businesses allow Henderson Bay High students to experience more than classroom learning.

Jace Huyck, 17, a student at Henderson Bay High School, spends her Wednesdays in a mechanic’s jumper working on classic cars at Jim’s Classic Garage instead of sitting in a usual high school classroom learning from a textbook.

“I’ve definitely learned a lot here,” Huyck said. “I came in with no knowledge but now I know how to change a tire and all of the basic fun stuff.”

Across town, Josh Jensen, 16, another student from Henderson Bay, works with Tom Regan at the Gig Harbor BoatShop on a 16-foot Norwegian-designed rowboat.

Boatwright Tom Regan (center) teaches Henderson High School sophomore Josh Jensen how to build a wooden boat at Gig Harbor BoatShop April 25. Peter Haley

“I have been here six or seven weeks,” Jensen said. “I have been working with my uncle, he’s a carpenter, and as soon as I heard about this … I figured why not come learn how to build a boat.”

Huyck and Jensen are two of a handful of students taking advantage of Henderson Bay High School’s new internship program, which school leaders hope will help students find a career path or make better decisions after graduation.

“We have been looking at ways to get our students more engaged at school and more focused on learning,” Henderson Bay High School Principal Brian Tovey said. “A key part of that is getting students into internships in the community. We had kids in exploratory classes and then we helped them get into internships. We just really wanted to get kids more connected to their interests.”

There are 12 students from Henderson Bay High School spending Wednesdays at local businesses, varying from real estate offices to public park management with PenMet Parks. For students who attend Henderson Bay High School, these internships may make the lasting difference they need to help them graduate on time and find a path after high school.

“We’re a school of choice,” Tovey said. “Students choose to come to our school. They are not sent there. They want the smaller environment, it is a bit more mellow. Our classes are smaller, kids get more personalized attention… most kids are coming from some situation where the big schools are not working. We have a great group of kids who want to get an education but don’t fit in that big setting.”

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Huyck said she chose to go to Henderson Bay after attending Gig Harbor High School because she was dealing with bullies in the larger school.

“I decided I wanted a smaller atmosphere that I could thrive better in,” Huyck said.

Tovey said he was not surprised by the number of local businesses that stepped up to accept student interns and job shadows. In fact, he expects more businesses to join in after this first initial year of the program.

At Henderson Bay High School, the school's goal is not to help students just graduate in four years, but to help them do their best in school and achieve that degree. The school is flexible on graduation dates and some students take upwards of six years to achieve their diploma. But after they walk out of the school’s doors, the students go off into the unknown.

For Tovey, he hopes this program will lead students to make better decisions about college choices, trade schools or finding entry level work.

“Some of it is very specific to the industry, like at Jim’s Classic Garage they are learning to work on cars,” Tovey said. “But they are also learning how to communicate, how to work with people … but there are also opportunities to learn math, science and social studies. With those kids are able to follow their interests … they will learn if this is an industry they want to be in. Now they are talking with people who can help me with that. They start to understand the path they need to take.”

Jim Sullivan, owner of Jim’s Classic Garage & Auto Museum, was excited to help students with internships when approached by the school. The garage opened five years ago and includes a classic car museum.

“When they were looking to do something we were looking for interns,” Sullivan said. “And within two weeks we had a big school bus, full of 30 people, came to our museum and gave a look around. I pitched freestyle learning with a curve."

"There was something missing with these kids. It’s more than learning to work on cars. It’s about learning self respect, respect for your peers and respect for the cars. Feel what it takes to put a 100-year-old car back on the road again. The idea to teach what the school isn’t teaching is cool for us.”

Henderson High School students Jace Huyck (left), Jake Higgenbottom and Bryan Ellis learn to work on cars at Jim's Classic Garage in Gig Harbor April 25. Danielle Chastaine

Sullivan typed out a booklet of his own curriculum and found that he is able to offer more than mechanics lessons. Some students who don’t mind getting dirty learn the car basics but others, Sullivan found, loved learning about the books and how the financial end of the business worked.

“I loved every one of these students,” Sullivan said. “Each one is different.”

Regan saw the internships as a way to pass on a long-standing tradition from the harbor.

“It’s important that these skills get passed on,” Regan said. “And I am happy to share what I know. I don’t expect interns to maybe go on to boat building but what you are working on here is applicable to what you can be doing. It’s critical thinking, it’s geometry and arithmetic, hand-eye coordination. There’s a lot you can take away from this even if you don’t plan to get into the boat business.”

The weekly internship program is in its first initial year at Henderson Bay, and teachers are optimistically cautious as they watch the program’s initial success. Tovey said so far he thinks the program is going to expand the next few years to include more students.

“I think so far we are having great results,” Tovey said. “One of the students said ‘my internship on Wednesday keeps me going to school the other four days of the week.’ They are learning a lot and sharing with their friends who are thinking they want to start doing internships too.”

Danielle Chastaine: 253-358-4155, @gateway_danie