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Geared up: New female-only auto shop class draws 75 students at BHS

BEMIDJI--A new class at Bemidji High School offers young women another way to learn basic car repair and maintenance. The high school now offers a beginning automotive class exclusively for female students, who split into groups last week and wor...

From left, Makenna Schmidt, Mariah Schwersinske and Melinda Weidemann examine the workings of a vehicle on Jan. 18, during the Basic Auto for Women Only class at Bemidji High School. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer)
From left, Makenna Schmidt, Mariah Schwersinske and Melinda Weidemann examine the workings of a vehicle on Jan. 18, during the Basic Auto for Women Only class at Bemidji High School. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer)
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BEMIDJI-A new class at Bemidji High School offers young women another way to learn basic car repair and maintenance.

The high school now offers a beginning automotive class exclusively for female students, who split into groups last week and worked on oil changes, battery replacements and brake inspections without the been-there-done-that swagger teenage boys reputedly sometimes bring to the school's shop.

Tenth-grader Mariah Schwersinske said she's had a lifelong passion for cars and would have taken the mixed-gender "Auto Tech 1" class anyway, but felt more comfortable in the all-girls "Basic Auto for Women Only" class.

"Boys usually take the lead in the mixed class," Schwersinske said.

The mixed-gender class is overwhelmingly male, and fellow sophomore Serena Johnson said she never would have taken it.

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"There's just a really big stigma that this is like a guy's place, and when a girl's there, there's lots of either catcalls or you're kind of treated like you're kind of stupid," she explained.

Andy Olson, a longtime industrial technology teacher at the high school, said he occasionally has to deal with young men who say they know the curriculum already. Others might puff their chest out about, say, the time they helped their dad rebuild an engine.

"Well, they handed him wrenches," Olson said.

Olson said he usually taught about four to six girls in Auto Tech 1 every school year. The girls-only class has 75 students enrolled this year and teaches the same curriculum as the mixed-gender class.

"I didn't want it to be a watered-down version," Olson said. "What we really wanted to do was create an environment that they didn't feel intimidated by."

Serena Johnson checks a car's oil levels on Jan. 18, during the Basic Auto for Women Only class at Bemidji High School. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer)
Serena Johnson checks a car's oil levels on Jan. 18, during the Basic Auto for Women Only class at Bemidji High School. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer)

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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