Centralia High School pilots green energy career and technical education program


Lewis County is expected to see significant economic development in the coming years as local hydrogen fuel projects take off.

Centralia High School is working to get ahead of that market by introducing a green energy science class to serve as a pilot project for a renewable energy career and technical education (CTE) program at the school. 

Describing the class in an Oct. 1 interview with state Rep. Peter Abarrno, R-Centralia on KELA’s “Let's Talk About It,” Centralia High School science teacher Robert McKay said, “I’m doing the field testing for it so that eventually we can develop a curriculum pathway for the people that we’re going to need to run the economy that has all these new jobs.” 

Many science teachers in Washington are starting to include renewable energy-related concepts in their curriculum, McKay said last week.

“But to teach it as a whole contained course … grounding the kids and saying ‘this is what’s coming for you,’ it’s this sort of Sputnik moment, except we don’t have Sputnik buzzing around,” he said. 

The pilot course is partially supported by a Renewable Energy Vehicle and Infrastructure Technician (REVIT) grant the the Centralia School District, the Chehalis School District and Twin Transit received earlier this year. The three parties collectively received $375,576 to develop statewide curriculum in grades 8-12 STEM programs that educate students on the health and environmental benefits of transforming diesel fleets to zero emission fleets, as well as overcoming the challenges of transitioning these fleets. 

“We knew businesses were coming in our area, and then the REVIT grant opportunity became available. We volunteered to pilot the course because we think it is important for our students,” Centralia School District Superintendent Lisa Grant said of the district’s decision to launch its renewable energy CTE program. 

One of the main goals of McKay’s class this year is to simply introduce students to the practical applications of green energy and career options within the growing green energy market. 

“This is very much the first step … But there’s possibilities out there, which is great. It’s getting them thinking,” McKay said. 

The Centralia School District aims to “Not just … keep building that line of curriculum and coursework, but then how do we even expand that into some sort of academy,” Grant said. 

Abbarno, who has been an advocate for hydrogen fuel and green energy development,  has taken an interest in the new program and is connecting Centralia School District staff with experts in the green energy field, such as Washington Green Hydrogen Alliance board member Dave Warren, to help the district further develop the program. 

Last week, Abbarno and Warren met with McKay, Grant, Centralia High School CTE Director Austin Baker, and student Pedro Picazo, who recently won awards for building a hydrogen-fueled go-kart, to discuss growing workforce needs within the hydrogen market and ways Centralia could focus its program to help meet those needs.

Last month, the Biden-Harris administration announced plans to invest $7 billion in proposed hydrogen “hubs” across the country, with up to $1 billion to go toward projects in the Pacific Northwest over the next nine years, including Twin Transit and Centralia College’s proposed hydrogen fuel station in Centralia. More than $4 million will likely go toward Centralia College’s training center for worker training, according to previous Chronicle reporting. 

“I’ve been speaking at conferences around the state and in Portland and such, and I don’t know any other school that’s … doing what you're doing, building this type of program so early in this process, saying ‘hey, we’re even ahead of where the hydrogen hub is, helping invest in workforce,” Abbarno said.