Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The TCS Automotive High School Program - six months later

Seven years ago, parents began coming to Robison Service, offering their autistic kids as apprentices.  Shortly after, autistic adults began coming, offering themselves.  I didn’t have a means of taking them on, but I started thinking.
Robison Service, where it all began
Two years ago, I began to envision of a school where we could teach the auto trade to young people with challenges.  I started talking about the idea, and wondering how it could be accomplished.

A year and a half ago, I proposed the idea to Paul Rilla and the staff of Tri County School of Easthampton.  They agreed to join forces in pursuit of that goal.  A few months later – at a public vocational program nearby - we found a shop teacher in Mark Girard, and other staff at Tri County stepped forward to volunteer for our program.

Nine months ago, the Massachusetts Department of Special Education licensed a part of our commercial garage complex as a satellite high school campus.  We had the green light to open.

Six months ago we received our first car donation.  What’s a school without cars to work on?  Today, the bays are full.

September 2013 saw our first day of school. For the first time ever, a van delivered high school students to our Springfield Auto Complex.

Instructor Mark Girard and Master Technician Danny Ferrari discuss a Mercedes-Benz engine problem with a student, as a Land Rover waits for attention in the background.
Two months ago Mike Loth from Bosch Automotive demonstrated their commitment to education and our program by donating $30,000 worth of state of the art Bosch wheel and alignment equipment.  We can now teach our students on the same machines that are used commercially in high end dealerships all over the world.

Richard Santore from the commercial side of our complex admires the new Bosch front end and wheel equipment.  Our TCS school is state of the art thanks to Bosch Automotive's support!

Today we are moving into the final months of our first year of the program.  We have nine wonderful students.  I’m so proud of what they’ve done, and what the teachers and staff have accomplished in building this school and program.  The founding vision was mine, but Paul, Mark, Meredith, Nestor, Barry, Walter and all the others from Tri Country worked so hard to make it real, and they deserve the credit here.

And the first students helped build the facility alongside us, and they showed us what works and what doesn’t.  Please give them all a round of applause . . .

Visitors sometimes ask what our vision is.  It’s simple, really.

We agree that high school should teach the old standbys – reading, writing, and arithmetic.  You can’t get far in today’s world if you can’t read, or count change.  We even agree with teaching new subjects, and passing state-mandated tests like the MCAS.  We know the rules for graduation.  But we think high school needs to go farther. We believe high school should teach a student what she needs to make a living in the world today, at a livable level.  Not as a minimum wage worker.

A TCS student dismantles and inspects brakes on a Toyota SUV  April 2014

We think every high school graduate deserves the chance to step out of school, and go to work in a field that interests them with skills they acquired in school.  We think those skills should be enough to support them, and start them on the road to independent life.

The Europeans have done this right along, with their apprenticeship programs.  

We think those skills, and the academic foundation that precedes them, should be enough to take our graduates into college or the workforce, and offer a good shot at success on either path. 

Two TCS students work on a BMW motorcycle, April 30, 2014

To that end, we’re building alliances with employers and colleges to help our graduates down whichever path they choose.  Stand by for more news on that this summer.  Call us now if you've got a student you'd like to enroll for fall.  We take referrals from public schools all over Western Mass.  We have transport and residential options too.

Contact us here to discuss enrollment or referral.  TCS Auto is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and a licensed special ed high school.  TCS School is based in the Robison Service complex but it is not owned by Robison Service.  It's an independent private school.

This whole thing was nothing but a dream five years ago.  Imagine where we’ll be, five years from now.

John Robison
May 1, 2014



John Elder Robison is a founder and advisor to the TCS Automotive program, a part of Tri County School, which is itself part of Northeast Center for Youth and Families in Easthampton, MA.  The TCS Auto program is located at 347 Page Boulevard in Springfield, MA – in the Robison Springfield Automotive Complex.  John is an autistic adult and advocate for young people with differences.  He’s the founder of J E Robison Service, and the author of Look Me in the Eye, Be Different, and Raising Cubby, along with dozens of magazine and journal articles. He serves on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee for the US Dept. of Health and Human Services, and many other government and private autism committees. John is the Neurodiversity Scholar in Residence at the College of William & Mary.  Find him online at www.johnrobison.com

5 comments:

natalie seitz said...

I am so delighted that this has been a success so far!I am from Germany-where most students go into apprenticeships or technical school after graduating from HS.This route isn't for every student-but I think that particularly young people on the spectrum benefit immensely from hands on, real life applied learning.

forsythia said...

What wonderful work you are doing.

Jeanne Kirchner said...

I wish I would have known about this when my older son was still in High School. He has tried HCC part time for the last two years, however his challenges have now made it impossible for him to continue on this path. Mark Girard is my cousin and he is a magnificent mechanic and teacher. The time is gone for my oldest son, however maybe is younger brother who is struggling with autism may benefit from this.
Thank you so much for thinking about the people who slip through the cracks of our society and education system.

Sophie Tilley said...

What a work! This is good work. This work came from different thought.
Thanks for sharing this.
Workshop Equipment

Dana said...

Oh how I wish there were more programs like this. Having access to this type of program would have likely kept my son from dropping out of high school last spring.

I have no doubt he will eventually find his way, but it sure would have helped had he been able to participate in a program like this rather than being defined by the public school system as a "problem" that needed to be "fixed".

Amazing work John ... amazing!