At the Pierce County Skills Center (PCSC) in Puyallup, no two classrooms are the same.
The Fire Science and Emergency Services classroom resembles a fire station, with firefighter gear and tools for students to practice with.
The Culinary Arts classroom is a full-scale kitchen with refrigerators, stoves and even a restaurant that’s open to the public.
Animals — from dogs to turtles — hang out with students in the Pre-Veterinary Technology classroom.
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And the PC Networking and Hardware Repair classroom, where students learn the ins and outs of computer network installation and management, has a hidden circuit of wires underneath its floor, which can be completely taken apart.
These are just some of the programs offered at PCSC, which provides career and technical opportunities for high school students in Pierce County and serves nine school districts, including the Sumner School District.
The goal is to allow students to explore a career in depth. They’re learning and doing at the same time.
Michelle Ledbetter, director at Pierce County Skills Center
“The goal is to allow students to explore a career in depth,” said Michelle Ledbetter, director at PCSC. “They’re learning and doing at the same time.”
PCSC offers 14 different programs to students, including Aerospace Composites, Aerospace Machining/Fabrication, Automotive Technology, Construction Trades, Criminal Justice, Video Game Development, Fire Science and Emergency Services, Medical Careers, PC Networking, Pre-Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine and Pre-Veterinary Technology. Two years ago, Culinary Arts and Pre-Pharmacy Technology programs were added to the list. Cosmetology is the only off-site program PCSC runs.
Providing hands-on tools and equipment for technical careers might be difficult and expensive for school districts to supply, said Ledbetter, which is where PCSC comes in.
Students can apply for a program online or through a high school counselor. Students split their school days attending classes at their high school and classes at PCSC. All programs are tuition-free.
At PCSC, students spend time in a classroom setting and in an applied learning environment that mimics what they’d see in that career field. Depending on the program, students can work toward earning certifications and college credit, giving them a head start post-graduation, whether they choose to pursue a career or continue education.
We focus on offering students certifications that will give them a head start.
“We focus on offering students certifications that will give them a head start,” Ledbetter said.
For those in the Medical Careers program, students earn their initial certification as a Nursing Assistant (NA-C) by graduation. Lexi Gray, a senior at Bothell High School, is looking forward to receiving her certification as she continues into the nursing program at Washington State University.
“We learn about different medical careers,” Gray said about her class. “I want to be a pediatric nurse practitioner.”
We learn about different medical careers. I want to be a pediatric nurse practitioner.
Lexi Gray, student at Bothell High School
Jeramey Thesenvitz, a senior at Graham-Kapowsin High School, is enrolled in the Aerospace Composites program and is looking into a position at Boeing after serving in the military. After learning about how to use machinery at the center, he said his program lets him get creative and work on personal projects, like making car parts.
“Once you know what you’re doing, you’ll be able to do your own thing,” he said.
PCSC also offers a two-week summer school program that is open to freshmen and sophomore students. That’s how Garrett Rennie, now a junior at Spanaway Lake High School, learned about the PC Networking program.
“I really enjoyed it,” Rennie said. “It was something I wanted to do in the future.”
In January, Gov. Jay Inslee declared February as Careers in Technical Education (CTE) Month, highlighting the work that PCSC does.
Moving forward, Ledbetter said PCSC might open other technical programs, but that nearly every program fills up — with Automotive Technology and Medical Services often the first to go.
PCSC accommodates around 570 students annually (up to the age of 21) and is located at 16117 Canyon Rd E.