A bright fall Tuesday. Some high school kids might, at this very moment, be texting their way through English class. But in a gleaming suburban auto repair shop, a group of juniors and seniors from Newberg High crowd around the exposed brake system of a red sedan. They’re part of the automotive education program at World of Speed, a two-year-old Wilsonville museum that houses a Chevy Monte Carlo driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr., for instance, and celebrates the Bonneville Salt Flats’ speed-trial tracks and the Northwest’s rich racing history. Behind the scenes, however, WOS chases a different checkered flag: hands-on education.
Like most schools in Oregon, Newberg no longer offers a shop program, part of a larger trend toward four-year college prep and away from vocational programs. (The recently approved Measure 98 will direct education funding to vocational programs—if there’s an adequate increase in state revenues.)
“Shop programs are disappearing,” says Lewis Ferguson, the director of education for World of Speed. “Out of 500 high schools in Oregon, 40 have auto-tech programs.”
World of Speed’s 9,974-square-foot instructional shop houses a dozen bays, two classrooms, and a workshop of tools that would make a veteran socket jockey jealous. Drawn from metro-area high schools, students attend during regular school hours. According to Ferguson, nine members of the program’s first class of 22 students might not have graduated without this program.
“I help my dad a lot on like these little things on his cars and stuff. But I have never been in an actual shop setting,” says Rexx Wood, a senior.
“High schools are more like, ‘Go to college and do this,’” says Juli DuBois, another senior. “It’s really great that we get to see the other side of where you can go outside of college.”
Started in 2015 with 22 students, World of Speed’s automotive education program now enrolls more than 100 at a time. If students complete all the program’s classes, they can earn up to 12 credits toward their diplomas as well as college credit.
“There is a whole group of students who don’t do well in traditional settings,” says Ferguson. “They want to know how things work, and they are falling through the cracks.”