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Will school put brakes on auto tech classes?
CAREERS: COURSE LEFT OUT OF STAFFORD HIGH PLANS
BY LINDLEY ESTES
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
At 20, Skylar Grymes is the youngest mechanic at Little Tire Co.’s Four-Mile Fork shop.
He graduated in 2010 from Stafford High School, where he took automotive tech classes for two years. Grymes said the classes gave him the experience to pursue further training and get a job.
The program, which has about 110 students this year, may not be offered after Stafford High is reconstructed. Building plans do not currently have room for the auto shop.
The $64 million rebuild of Stafford High will be on land next to the existing school. The new high school will open in September 2015; the 37-year-old building will be demolished.
The Stafford County School Board will talk about inclusion of the automotive program at its meeting Tuesday.
Grymes said he learned the basics at Stafford High, such as changing oil and using scanners.
At Little Tire, he does the full range of auto mechanic jobs. On Friday, he changed oil, rotated tires and replaced an alternator—all before lunchtime.
He said that the high school program gives kids a good understanding of basic mechanics, and that’s needed for advanced training after high school.
“You have to start somewhere,” he said. “The best place to start is high school.”
Grymes said that a career as an auto mechanic was appealing to him because of the economy.
“Everyone needs cars,” he said. “And you have to get them fixed.”
Vocational and technical instructors agree with Grymes.
Bobby Jett, a drafting teacher at Stafford High, told the county School Board at the Sept. 11 meeting that students enrolled in the automotive program there would have nowhere else to learn the skills.
Programs at other county high schools, Brooke Point and North Stafford, are too crowded to take Stafford High students, he said. The other two high schools—Colonial Forge and Mountain View—don’t offer the courses.
Germanna Community College recently opened an auto tech center in Stafford, but students have to pay for classes and would need transportation to get there.
Jett said he thinks dropping the automotive classes from the new Stafford High was an oversight, since the school has a design similar to Mountain View’s.
He said demand has gone up for the program at Stafford High, and enrollment has increased over the last five years.
“Three years ago there were about 80 students,” he said. “Now there are over 100.”
The classes are popular because they are so practical, he said.
“Cars are such an integral part of our lives,” he said.
Ken Wilson, who teaches automotive classes at North Stafford, graduated from the program at Stafford High in 1989.
He told the School Board earlier this month that the program was “the soil from which I built my career.”
Wilson said he was close to his instructors, and the program led to “a wonderful career I wouldn’t trade for the world.”
Wilson said the classes give students the knowledge to pursue automotive careers and help them decide whether that career path really is for them.
John Prowett, who has taught automotive classes at Stafford High for 25 years, graduated from the program in 1971.
He said that about 15 students a year go into automotive careers. Others in the program are able to work on their own cars after graduation.
One graduate of the program who went to work in the field is Mark Rock.
Rock said that automotive classes were his favorite in high school and kept him going.
Rock works at a local Jiffy Lube and said the program prepared him to do eight-minute oil changes.
But Rock’s ultimate goal is to do engineering and mechanics in the military. In three months, he’ll go into the Marines.
He said the classes at Stafford helped him achieve a perfect score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, which tests skills and predicts success in the military.
“The Air Force and everyone was calling,” he said. “I chose to go with the Marines because they had the most to offer.”
He said that if the program doesn’t continue, “a lot of kids wouldn’t have the chances and opportunities I had.”
Jett said he hopes the School Board will find a way to include the program in the new high school.
School Board member Doreen Phillips said she supports the program and wants to get answers about why it was not included in the plans.
“The program is a huge benefit to so many kids,” she said. “To get that certification in high school is a beautiful thing.”
She said that it was especially encouraging to hear from students and recent graduates.
“It speaks volumes to me,” she said.
AREA SCHOOL SYSTEMS OFFER STUDENTS A VOCATIONAL VARIETY
Fredericksburg-area school divisions offer a variety of career and technical courses, from agriculture to sports marketing.
Each system operates differently. Some concentrate courses at vocational centers and others offer career-oriented classes at some high schools.
Spotsylvania County operates a Career and Technical Center where high school students from throughout the county go to learn skills and trades.
A few courses, including agriculture, marketing and technology, are offered at the individual high schools.
Auto service and repair is one skill students can learn at the Career and Technical Center near Courtland High. Last year, 73 students earned credentials in that field, and 59 are enrolled this year, school division spokeswoman René Daniels said.
Other tech center courses include nursing, carpentry, culinary arts, electricity, masonry, plumbing, cosmetology, and heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration.
Spotsylvania Superintendent Scott Baker said he hopes to continue expanding the center’s offerings.
He noted that courses aren’t just for those hoping to enter a trade after high school.
Culpeper County operates career and technical classes at both high schools.
Rob Hauman, executive director of curriculum, instruction and technology, said the popularity of the programs is mixed.
The culinary, ROTC and marketing programs, specifically sports marketing, are very popular.
The agriculture and automotive programs are linked. Students work on tractor engines to learn about motors, and these programs are less popular.
The school system shares programs between Culpeper and Eastern View high schools because the division does not have the money to offer them at both schools.
King George County offers a variety of courses at its high school. They include drafting, building trades and agriculture. The school doesn’t have automotive, nursing or cosmetology courses.
Kristine Hill, coordinator of curriculum and instruction, said that the vocational classes have been popular, and the division is interested in expanding its offerings.
One area that school officials would like to expand is nursing. Currently, King George students interested in nursing attend classes at the Spotsylvania Career and Technical Center.
“We certainly would like to expand, and there’s a real need in health care,” Hill said.
Staff reporter Pamela Gould contributed to this story.
Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976