|Bentleys in the TCS Automotive shop area|
|The TCS Automotive space in the Robison Service complex|
|Programming a Lotus Seven in the Robison Service complex|
I am really excited to see things coming together for our new school, which is officially named the TCS Automotive Program. We will begin teaching the automotive trades to a lucky group of teenagers in just three short weeks. This will be one of the most unique special education facilities ever!
Our partners at Tri Country Schools have staffed the place with an experienced crew of teachers. We’ve hired a vocational teacher with long experience in the auto shop, and he’s going to be backed up by a special ed teacher and school psychologist from Tri County. Their facilities manager has worked with us to finish the space and turn an empty building into an inviting and functional school.
Every day, people stop by Robison Service to learn about the school. Can I see it, they ask? The idea of teaching the automotive trade to kids in a working automotive complex is praised be everyone. “This is a great idea,” they exclaim!
What will it be like for students in our automotive program? That’s one of the questions visitors always ask. Here are a few of my thoughts on that. I’ll be very interested to hear what readers think.
First of all, students will divide their time between the vocational classrooms – here at the Robison Service complex - and traditional academic classrooms at the existing Tri County School. A school van will shuttle them back and forth.
When students arrive at the vocational program they will be greeted by a shop full of cars, and a small teaching and support staff. From the beginning, we will strive to make our students feel like they are part of a real working service department.
They will learn in an environment that’s virtually identical to a working shop; indeed the space served that purpose for many years before we made it into a school.
We have thirty-two double deep bays in our complex. Three of them are now dedicated to the school. That means our students will do most of their learning in a dedicated space. But like medical students, they will have weekly Grand Rounds, where they tour the whole complex and see what’s going on in the other service bays. That will give their classroom work meaning and significance. As they learn to service transmissions on the school workbenches they will see their older peers fixing similar transmissions for paying customers in the adjacent garage spaces.
I will not be teaching any classes, but I will be an ever-visible part of the school. I’ll be available to talk to students, and I hope my own life in the trades will inspire them to feel good about following a similar path.
We are prepared to teach all aspects of the car service trade, including safety practices, cleaning and detailing, vehicle inspection, maintenance, and doing basic repairs. We will also teach our students how to use standard auto shop software to look up and order parts, investigate repair procedures, and write up work orders. Finally, we will teach our students how to care for the shop itself – caring for tools, taking care of customer vehicles, and keeping the shop itself clean and in good order.
Those are all key skills that will be needed when our students enter the real world.
I hope we will be able to get grants to support placing many of our students in the complex as apprentices. That would allow them to get their first work experience in a safe, supportive environment. I also expect to form alliances with other local auto service departments so we can have more supportive shops in which to place our students.
I expect most students will enter our program at age 15 or 16. Because we are a special education facility we have the ability to keep students longer than a traditional high school. In Massachusetts, special ed students can remain in high school through their 21st year. If a student has challenges (as I did) that gives a greater chance of graduation and success.
One of our goals will be to graduate students with solid credentials for employment. A high school diploma alone isn’t enough. We hope to see most graduates leave us with Massachusetts state inspector’s licenses and their first-level ASE certification tests passed. ASE is the standard credentialing organization in the auto trade, and they have many levels of certification. When our students graduate we hope to have them solidly placed for the climb up the ASE ladder; all the way to Master Technician.
Those skills and credentials should make our graduates quite competitive when entering the auto service workforce, but we also want to have a path for those who want to learn more. For that, we plan to form alliances with the technical college system so that our graduates will have the choice of continuing on for an Associate’s in Auto Technology and qualification as a more skilled technician or even as a service advisor.
Students who graduate from the state’s two-year programs with GPAs above 2.5 have guaranteed admission to state university, and those with GPAs above 3.0 have tuition waivers. So the road is open as far as our graduates want to travel, but at each step they will be well qualified for a respectable job that will pay a living wage.
I’ll write more on this later.
Until then, I await your thoughts . . .