LYNNWOOD — Every year, a few students tell Meadowdale High School teacher Bryan Robbins there’s one reason they’re still in school: his auto shop class.

“These are the kids that thrive on hands-on stuff,” Robbins said. “They don’t want to do the sitting at their desk working.”

Normally, the class would be in Meadowdale’s state-of-the-art workshop tinkering with engines and rebuilding hot rods.

When the school district mandated remote learning, Robbins worried he may lose his students who have their sights set on careers in the auto tech industry, but don’t have the same enthusiasm for other classes.

Robbins spent the summer scrambling to keep up with ever-changing plans for fall school and figuring out how to keep his students engaged online. For auto shop, he said giving up the hands-on element wasn’t an option.

So with the help of a $11,300 donation from Foundry10, a Seattle organization that promotes nontraditional learning, Robbins sent the shop home with 54 students.

Last month, his classes lined up in their cars along the back of Meadowdale High School to pick up a toolkit and a blue Lowe’s bucket with a small engine inside.

“We’re trying to not let the actual physical skills … atrophy,” Robbins said.

Bryan Robbins check off students picking up equipment class at Meadowdale High School in Lynnwood on Oct. 1, 2020. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Bryan Robbins check off students picking up equipment class at Meadowdale High School in Lynnwood on Oct. 1, 2020. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

This semester, they’ll rebuild a small engine that could power a pressure washer or a go-kart. Students will take the engine apart, label and measure the different components, and put it back together. Then they’ll repeat the same process with a drum brake.

Students also picked up a 370-piece toolkit — and they’ll get to keep it if they pass the class.

Normally, the auto shop class would be learning how to use the shop’s brand-new, state-of-the-art tire machine to repair and balance tires.

Last year, the school spent $122,000 on the machine and a new alignment rack.

“To have them spend that money on this place and only get six months of use out of it is heartbreaking,” Robbins said.

For the most book-adverse students, Robbins said auto shop is a bargaining chip to keep them in school.

“I get kids every year that tell me they were going to drop out,” he said, “if it weren’t for auto shop.”

If students aren’t going to their other classes, they can’t attend auto shop either. They get science, engineering, and career and technical education credits through the course.

Auto shop is like sports for those interested in the trades, Robbins said. Students wear their auto club jackets with pride like lettermen jackets.

“A lot of kids call this their safe place,” Robbins said.

Small engines await distribution at Meadowdale High School in Lynnwood on Oct. 1, 2020. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Small engines await distribution at Meadowdale High School in Lynnwood on Oct. 1, 2020. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The skills learned in auto shop can shepherd kids into jobs in the auto tech industry.

Meadowdale senior Nicholas Wiley worked his way through all of Robbins’ classes.

“I really liked cars since I was a kid,” Wiley said.

Next year, he’s headed into the Porsche Technician Training Program at the Universal Technical Institute in Arizona.

The intermediate and advanced-level classes of Meadowdale’s auto program are also available to students from other Edmonds School District high schools.

The introductory class, though, is currently only taught at Meadowdale. That’s something shop assistant Kellie Shanahan hopes to change.

The new hybrid model she and Robbins developed for this school year may allow them to expand the basic class to other high schools, she said.

A digital platform to teach a hands-on skill isn’t ideal, but Robbins said the donation from Foundry10 saved his pupils from a year of clicking through online assignments.

“They saved my school year,” he said. “These projects are real, tangible and meaningful.”

Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; [email protected]; Twitter: @sanders_julia.

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