OHS auto shop doing more than just turning wrenches

Olympic High School automotive shop instructor Rich Bennett (far left) works with students (from left) Austin Oliver, David Bickle and Chad Lampano on pulling up codes. - Jesse Beals/staff photo
Olympic High School automotive shop instructor Rich Bennett (far left) works with students (from left) Austin Oliver, David Bickle and Chad Lampano on pulling up codes.
— image credit: Jesse Beals/staff photo

Class receives national accreditation.

Rich Bennett runs a pretty tight ship in Olympic High School’s automotive shop as students occasionally find themselves “fired” during the course of the school year.

They used to have to stand on a line called the “unemployment line,” but Bennett has since retired that teaching tool.

What he has done with the support of OHS and Central Kitsap School District staff is transform the school’s automotive technology program into the only one in Kitsap County to receive the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF) certification. It’s also one of just 15 statewide.

Bennett compares the NATEF certification to the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification automotive shops proudly display.

“It tells us they understand their stuff and it takes a lot to get this,” he said, noting that he had to totally revamp the program’s curriculum in order to meet the NATEF standards.

Students receive instruction on everything from safety to environmental issues as well as how to perform entry-level technician tasks that prepare them for careers in the automotive service industry once they graduate, he said.

Sophomores are eligible to take the beginning class before moving up to the advanced class as juniors and seniors, where they hone their skills under the watchful eye of Bennett.

There are no freebies as students are graded on their proficiency with each task as they adhere to a lengthy program task list that spells out each component of the assigned task.

Students who don’t reach the standard the first time are given the opportunity to review their performance and try again, so they can reach the expected skill level.

While some students will enter the workforce as entry-level technicians after high school, Bennett said he encourages students to first attend a technical college or training institute to further their knowledge.

“This really prepares them for the next step, and I’ve had students who went to UTI (Universal Technical Institute) and tell me it gave them a good jump start on that,” Bennett said, noting that one of his former students now works in California for an upper-end automotive dealership making about $100,000 annually.

Senior Chad Lampano, who will be attending UTI in the fall, said the program has taught him how much he loves working on cars.

“Ever since I got my first car last year, I’ve been working on it,” Lampano said, adding that his goal is to one day open his own automotive shop.

Fellow senior Austin Oliver said the one thing he’s learned from Bennett is the value of professionalism.

“We have to be professional all the time because it’s your job,” Oliver said.

With graduation just a few months away, senior David Bickle said he is still weighing his future options.

“I’ve got an offer from a dealership that would allow me to go to school while I work or I might just go to school,” Bickle said, crediting Bennett and his program for putting him in that position.

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