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Greasing the wheels for their future

Ralston High School students are getting a chance to experience the workforce before they graduate.

The Automotive Academy, a two-year program at RHS, allows students to get hands-on experience in a mechanic’s garage while still in school.

In the first year of the program, students take auto classes at the school. During the first semester of their senior year, they continue taking classes and look for internships. In the second semester of their senior year they have the opportunity to work as an intern at an automotive company such as Woodhouse Mazda Service.

Dr. Josh Wilken, career education coordinator for Ralston Public Schools, said the program provides students with a unique learning experience.

“As seniors, that’s when it gets more involved. We feel at that point, they are ready for more work-based learning,” Wilken said.

Not every student is guaranteed an internship, Wilken said. To be considered, students must pass previous automotive classes and apply and interview at the companies.

Those selected spend a few hours every Tuesday and Thursday at their internship where they work alongside a mentor.

The internships are paid positions and students who have been chosen earn a minimum of $11 an hour.

Another perk to the internship, Wilken said, is students can see if it is the right career path for them before spending money on college tuition.

“For a lot of students, this has solidified that this is where they want to be,” he said.

Senior Joe Lebeda has an internship this semester at Woodhouse Mazda Service at 6603 L St.

Because of his time at the dealership, Lebeda said he definitely is on the right track and hopes to grow in the automotive industry.

“I feel like it’s a good learning process. I get to learn how a dealership runs and how to work at the speed everyone else works at,” Lebeda said.

In his internship position, Lebeda gets to perform basic maintenance tasks such as oil and tire changes and windshield wiper and air filter replacements.

And when Lebeda is not busy doing that, he gets to work alongside certified technicians on bigger projects.

“It’s comforting because someone is watching over you and you get to watch them actively do their job and you know it’s getting done the right way,” he said.

Lebeda said he is grateful for the opportunity.

“Experience in general is the most important out of everything,” he said. “It’s relaxing knowing I have a head start on everyone else.”

Zach Hinkle, Woodhouse Mazda service manager, said he enjoys working with Lebeda and seeing his progression.

“I enjoy watching students and employees grow,” he said. “I look at them as investments for our company.”

Andy Berthold, the automotive instructor at RHS, said he is proud of the work his students do and advises them to continue their efforts.

“It takes a special kind of person and mentality to be able to diagnose and work on cars and for high school students to be able to come in and do that, it takes a lot of dedication and hard work,” Berthold said.

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