Feb. 7, 2024 -- Heights High’s automotive technology program is “second to none,” according to instructor Jeff Porter. “We’ve had a lot of success stories coming out of here. Not only are we setting kids up for careers, we’re setting them up for life.”
That’s because the skills students learn are not just related to cars. While they of course learn how to change tires and fix brakes, they also learn how to interact with clients, conduct business over the phone, and ensure perfection with their work. Mr. Porter isn’t joking when he says, “An 80% in your math class might be fine. But nobody wants a brake job that’s done 80% right.”
Part of the Heights Career Tech Consortium, which includes students from CH-UH, Bedford, Maple Heights, Shaker Heights, and Warrensville Heights, auto-tech is a two-year program housed in the Delisle Building. Certified by the National A.S.E. (Automotive Service Excellence) Foundation, the coursework positions students well for high-paying jobs straight out of high school.
Gui Bradshaw, a paraprofessional in the program, said, “We’re giving these kids skills they can have for life, whether or not they choose to go into the automotive industry.”
For many students, going into the industry is precisely the goal. Nadia Walker was motivated by her mother who was in the military and worked on boats. Plus she can’t deny the value of female clients having a female technician. “It’s definitely a trust issue for women. I don’t want someone to get talked into paying thousands of dollars when all they need is an oil change.” Her ultimate goal is to learn airplane repair, which another recent graduate of Heights auto-tech studied at the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics.
Her classmate Malachi Crans, a junior at Shaker High, feels “very lucky that Shaker and Heights work together to do this. It gives me an opportunity to do something I want to do in my life.”
They and their classmates spend three periods each day in their auto-tech class, sometimes at desks or on computers but usually on their feet, getting their hands dirty working on real cars. The shop floor has a collection of working cars that have been donated by Tri-C’s auto-tech program or sometimes by individuals. They learn brakes, maintenance and light repair as juniors, before moving onto more complicated skills as seniors.
One of the most attractive parts of the program, besides the opportunity to work with their hands, is the chance to earn points that count toward Ohio’s graduation requirements. For each A.S.E. certification the students pass, they earn four points with another three earned for machine-specific “snap-on” certificates. (Ohio students need a total of 35 points to graduate, which can be earned by passing state tests, taking certain courses, and demonstrating specific skills.)
Mr. Porter, who’s been teaching for the district for 20 years, said, “We’re teaching the same Ford-factory training they do at a dealership. Kids with these skills can go anywhere and get a job.” More than half of last year’s students had employment in the industry lined up by the time they graduated, with several others pursuing higher education.
But more than earning certificates or securing high salaries, Mr. Porter wants his program to feel like a family, a place where they’re welcomed and valued. “I treat them and talk to them the way I would want my kids treated,” he said. “Or the way they should treat a customer.”
That attitude is evident in the relaxed and friendly atmosphere on the shop floor. And also in the work that they do. Recently, school social worker Edie Fiala, who serves as the District’s Liaison for the Homeless in addition to her work at Fairfax and Oxford, approached Mr. Porter about a family who had first lost their home and then their car.
“The mom and kids had moved in with grandma,” she recounted. “And then both of their cars went kaput.” The mother couldn’t get to work, kids were missing their sports practices and after school tutoring, … things had gone from bad to worse.
So Ms. Fiala reached out to Mr. Porter to see if his students could help. After visiting the home to diagnose the problem, he agreed.
Ms. Fiala then used her contacts to find a tow truck to bring the car to Delisle for one third the normal price. Once there, students replaced the serpentine belt, fixed the brakes, gave it an oil change, and got it up and running, literally “putting the family back on the road,” said Ms. Fiala, all for no cost. Though the grandma did bake cookies for the students!
These kinds of interactions allow the students to practice their new skills, create costs sheets, and interact with clients, all while making someone’s life better in the process.
Any current students in 10th grade and below interested in learning more about the CTE programs in general pr the auto-tech program in particular can visit heightscareertech.com.