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Driving toward the future

The latest arrival at Crater School of Business Innovation and Science is an environmentally conscious California transplant with a revealing frame.

It's a $36,000, three-wheeled electric vehicle chassis. It only seats two, but it was designed and brought to Central Point to teach the next generation of technicians, ecologists, even graphic designers.

The vehicle, awarded by the Rogue Valley Clean Cities Coalition, will serve as just that — a vehicle — to expand career and technical education opportunities for Crater students. The coalition, which focuses on reducing dependence on foreign oil and increasing awareness of alternative fuels, decided to give it to a school as part of its own education and outreach goals, said Mike Quilty, Central Point city councilor and RVCCC member.

"The general public doesn’t necessarily understand the differences between propane, natural gas, renewable natural gas, hybrid battery electric vehicles. They want to get in a car and go from point A to point B ," Quilty said.

In addition, he said, students should know they can be a part of building new pathways forward.

"So much vocational education has come out of our high schools," he said. "We’re trying to put a little back in."

This also speaks to the vision behind Crater's interest in initiatives such as the electric vehicle. The foundation of the School of Business Innovation and Science, according to its website, "rests on real-world applications and technology." Crater is one of several schools in the Rogue Valley looking to bolster CTE in high schools.

The Medford School District is expanding its Pathways program in the high schools to include a broader range of CTE subjects, such as electricity and plumbing. The Southern Oregon Education Service District is looking even earlier than that, with programs such as its Air Academy, which enables students to gain technical skills by working with planes.

This is also the vision of the company that produced the vehicle, The SWITCH Lab. Beyond manufacturing, the company also incorporates education in its work, combining STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) with Common Core standards. Teachers who use the vehicles get electrical and curriculum training, learning not only how to work with the vehicle itself, but also how to plan lessons around it.

Those lessons, according to those present at the vehicle's unveiling event Tuesday, span a wide range of disciplines and interests.

Sean Pfister, who teaches ecology at Crater, said his teaching often centers on the concept of sustainability. He plans to have his students track the outputs of combustion engines versus the vehicle's lithium ion battery to discuss environmental impacts. The school's art teacher, Ron Craft, meanwhile, focuses more on the technical lessons to be drawn from the vehicle, such as assembly and designing the exterior. He wants to allow students to deck out the exterior with graphic design in time for the Pear Blossom Run.

"Anything that we can find that captures students' imaginations, we run with it," Craft said.

A few such students hung around the tech center during lunch to be among those first to see the newest piece of equipment. Chase Hukill and Levi Kuhlman, both seniors, plan to pursue decidedly different directions in life: Hukill hopes to work as a constitutional lawyer and Kuhlman as an orthopedic surgeon. Both had reasons to be excited about the car, however — Kuhlman to learn the wiring and construction, and Hukill to drive it.

"There's always something really cool going on in here," Hukill said about the tech center, where students have already been able to design and create their own toys, artwork using laser cutters and duct tape, and decorations for school dances.

Craft and Pfister will attend a training with the SWITCH Lab in January, also paid for by the RVCCC (the school covered travel and room and board). Quilty said the vehicle's impact at Crater will determine whether the coalition will extend the program to other schools that would want it. St. Mary's School also expressed interest, he said, when the coalition put out an initial call to schools about its plans to support a CTE program. Because of the school's construction, it decided to wait for another opportunity.

Given the interest from Crater, Quilty said the coalition is hopeful that more vehicles may be in demand.

"The more (students) understand about how things work around them the better off we are as a society," he said. "They're our future and we want to help them get there."

 — Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at 541-776-4497 or ktornay@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ka_tornay.

Chase Hukill, left, and Levi Kuhlman, both 17, check out a recently donated electric car at the Tech Center at Crater High School on Tuesday. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]