Still running smooth after 25 years

TUMWATER – New Market Skills Center, a South Sound vocational school, on Saturday celebrated 25 years of teaching students how to cook, fix autos, work on computers, launch a career in health care or work in environmental sciences.

The school also held an open house, giving prospective students and parents a chance to tour its Tumwater campus. The school has grown to offer 80,000 square feet of classroom space, and its enrollment during the school year has grown to 800 students from about 200 to 300 early on.

During the summer, about 600 to 700 students take classes to earn high school credits, said executive director Joe Kinerk, who has been at the helm since 1989.

New Market largely serves high school students from 10 school districts in the region, including those in Thurston County, he said. Eleventh- and 12th-graders can study at the school during the school year; it is open to the ninth- through 11th-graders in the summer.

Programs include culinary arts, computers, automotive repair and a pre-nursing program to become a certified nursing assistant. It also has a program focused on green industries and environmental sciences, as well as a pre-veterinarian program.

Holly McAntosh, 17, and Melissa Mattocks, 18, were home-schooled and then joined New Market, they said Saturday as they walked around campus with other students. Both started in the culinary arts program, then studied health care.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but I liked patient care and the teachers were amazing,” McAntosh said about her decision to pursue becoming a certified nursing assistant. She also said that the school gave her a chance to learn a skill before she had to spend money to learn the same skill elsewhere.

New Market tracks its students a year after they have left, and data show that students typically work part time in their chosen fields while continuing their studies at a two-year or four-year college, Kinerk said.

Mykel Hartman, 17, is a Tumwater High School student who spends half his day at high school and the other half at New Market learning to repair cars. Hartman likes to work with his hands: He has a job at a powder coating business and plans to study welding at South Puget Sound Community College.

It’s important to learn a trade, Hartman said. After studying at New Market, he thinks he has saved about $1,500 on car repairs that he now can do himself. Hartman paid $2,000 for a black Dodge truck, and the suspension system needed some work.

“I learned to take it apart, and there were parts I didn’t even know existed,” he said. “It’s a great place to be,” he said about New Market.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403