Auto Class

Ashley Palmer, 16, stands in a work bay at Planet Dodge, where she works on vehicles one day per week. Palmer is the first participant in a new apprenticeship program between Coconino High School and Planet Dodge in Flagstaff.

Taylor Mahoney

A Coconino High School junior is spending her Saturdays changing tires and checking oil at Planet Dodge this year.

Ashley Palmer, 16, is the school’s first participant in an apprenticeship program between the school and Planet Dodge. Palmer works once a week at the car dealership during the school year, an extension of the apprenticeship she began over the summer.

“I really like it,” Palmer said. “It’s cool to see what the adults do at work.”

Palmer works on the dealership’s express lane, which provides basic services, like tire and oil changes, to customers in less than half an hour.

“Ashley has been a great addition to our department,” said Planet Dodge Service Director Luis Viana. “Her efforts through the summer exhibited a strong work ethic along with a solid attention to detail.”

Viana said the dealership has added a second apprentice and hopes to move the partnership forward in the coming years.

“The experience with the high school students has been good,” Viana said. “They already have the basic knowledge about the vehicles when they come in.”

Palmer took the automotives class because she was interested in becoming a helicopter pilot, she said.

“I thought it would be good background knowledge for being a pilot, or if I ever wanted to work on helicopters,” she said.

Palmer is taking the class from Brian Locke, the school’s automotives teacher. He recently gained a national accreditation for the class, allowing students to take a test after taking three levels of automotive class, which shortens the amount of time and experience they will need after graduation to become an automotive technician.

“It puts you about a year closer to the technician certification,” Locke said.

Locke has taught in the school district for 11 years, but earned the accreditation last school year. He said the process to gain the accreditation was difficult, but since gaining it, the program has been a benefit for students. All students who take the three class levels are eligible to take the test.

Viana said the new accreditation will make it easier for students like Palmer to find a job in the automobile industry after graduation.

“You’ve been trained a step beyond someone without the program, so you’re more likely to get hired," he said.

Palmer said being the first high school apprentice at Planet Dodge and being a woman in a mostly male industry has not made her feel any different.

“I just feel like one of the group,” she said.

Palmer hopes to continue her apprenticeship throughout her next year of high school before she graduates in 2017. She said she is still interested in helicopters and flying, but has not made plans to pursue a pilot’s license yet.

Locke said the program at Coconino High School has helped the school strengthen relationships, like the one with Planet Dodge.

Viana said Planet Dodge is committed to working with students in the community to benefit the schools.

“By working with Brian Locke, the administration at Coconino High School and the students, we are building responsible adults, one student at a time,” Viana said.

The reporter can be reached at or 556-2249.


Corina Vanek covers city government, city growth and development for the Arizona Daily Sun.

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