The Wrenching Truth
Auto shop: It's not just for grease monkeys anymore.
Thursday, February 15, 2001
Nessa Lopez wants to be a child psychologist someday. Irene Brisson aspires to dance classical ballet professionally. Ying Ying Chu hopes to be a doctor, and Kenny Cepello plans on making a living as an automotive technician.
What do these four North Salinas High School students have in common? They all take auto shop. Every school day they hop on a bus at 10am and ride from school to the Mission Trails Regional Occupation Center next to Natividad Hospital. There they don faded blue jumpsuits with their names penned on their chests, and for two hours they study the science of the internal combustion engine and the art of fixing it. They learn by doing and by trial and error.
"We''re told it''s OK to make mistakes," smiles Nessa, who first took auto shop hoping to learn how to fix up her classic 1965 Mustang herself. Now she''s hooked.
Ying Ying has taken all the science courses she can take in high school. In fact, she''s even taking classes now at Hartnell College and plans to attend either Berkeley, Stanford or UCLA in the fall. But this brainiac relishes the practical knowledge she''s gaining in auto shop.
"I though it would be pathetic to go to school for 30 years to be a doctor, and I can''t even fix a tire," she explains.
Irene hopes to dance her way into the future. But if her plans don''t work out, she''ll have a skill to fall back on. "Dancers don''t make a lot of money," she admits. "And I''d rather be an auto technician than a waitress."
Kenny takes his time in auto shop more seriously. He''s never been great at school, but he loves working with his hands. He intends to make his living as an auto technician. He wants to attend a technical school after high school, and from there he hopes to land a job as a tech at a BMW dealership. With a company like BMW, he figures he could look forward to someday making a six-figure salary. "It pays more than some jobs that you need to go to college for," he opines.
For these four very different students, ROP offers valuable life and career skills by delivering hands-on training. Started in California in 1969, ROP takes the place of individual high schools'' shop, mechanics and welding classes. These days, students from across the Salinas Valley bus into Mission Trails to study dental assisting, auto repair, child care, and a myriad of computer and office skills. ROP classes also pop up on different high school campuses. For instance, Salinas High School offers ROP classes in the construction trades, banking and retail sales, while Alvarez High School houses an agriculture program. Students from all over the county are bussed to the appropriate campus to study their chosen trade.
Because ROP is centralized, serving many schools, resources are pooled to offer a wider variety of programs. But it also means students in Soledad or King City endure long bus rides to spend two hours of school time in the Salinas center.
Most area schools require some amount of ROP training for all students. While the classes run the gamut from welding to videography, they have one thing in common: ROP students roll their sleeves up and learn through hands-on work. In ROP class, students can exercise the practical application of abstract theories they''ve learned in the classroom. And it''s that translation from the chalkboard to the real world that kids crave, no matter what their future aspirations.
"Physics comes alive in auto shop," says Mission Trails Director Tim Vinoli. "These skills are transferable--if not directly, then through the problem-solving."
At 12:20, the kids shed their jumpsuits, scrub their hands to a sparkle and board the bus headed back to North Salinas High. They''ll land back at school just in time to gobble down a quick lunch, then they''ll head off to math or English or science class. The kids don''t seem to mind the back-and-forth bus ride much, even though it cuts into their lunch hour.
It''s worth it for these kids. Not only are they learning a practical skill in auto shop, but, as Ying Ying confesses, "It''s kind of fun and stuff."