Automotive Driven: High School Automotive Lessons Build Vehicle Skills and Confidence | Education
When the new high school opened two years ago, it was given expanded classrooms and learning spaces for many departments. Each benefited in their own way, but one set of classes in particular made progress after moving from the basement to a main thoroughfare.
The automotive program within the tech ed department at Verona Area High School did not have much traffic in the old building, as it was located in the basement. Now, in the new building, students walk right past the classroom, which features a four-door, double-bay garage that doesn’t look like a regular mechanic’s shop.
With this visibility, students now regularly ask, “These are our cars, can we work on them, how can I get into this class?” instructor Ben Zimmerman told reporters.
Several courses are taught in the full-service garage space, including mainstream automotive, automotive technology, and advanced automotive.
This is Zimmerman’s fourth year in charge of the program, and he said that in that time he has grown from an automotive class with a dozen students to now five full sections of large automotive. public and two comprehensive automotive technology sections, totaling approximately 10 students. .
“The space is helping to generate a lot of interest, and with the increase in enrollment — the more kids talk about it, the bigger it gets,” Zimmerman said.
The old high school could only accommodate two cars without much room to move around and shared space with small engines such as lawn mowers. Now the four-door, two-vehicle garage not only provides plenty of room to move around, but the small engines have their own separate room.
But while the program’s growing popularity is welcome, it also presents a problem, Zimmerman said. All of the cars they work on — teardown, reassembly — have been donated over the years. And with the rise in profitability of used car sales over the past two years due to the pandemic, there hasn’t been a car donation for two years.
“We urgently need more cars,” Zimmerman said.
After the same car has been taken apart and reassembled so many times, new students begin to lose authentic experience because previous students don’t always put everything back together correctly, he said.
Zimmerman said no cars are off limits, he’ll be happy to take a look at anything anyone might be interested in donating, including older cars, and decide if it’s okay. can be used for his lessons. He may even consider getting a classic car that he could turn into a longer project that could be in the Hometown Days parade when finished.
Even if a car is rusty, it can still be taken apart for parts. All donated cars are collected after being used in class, the program does not return cars for money, Zimmerman said.
Along with the practical aspects of the lessons, automotive lessons help with learning how to read a repair bill, knowing when you need new tires, and learning other basic skills.
“The sad reality is that some mechanics try to take advantage of people,” he said.
Students also learn how to change their own oil and replace air filters, how to mount and demount tires, and how to balance wheels, sometimes working on their own vehicle in the school garage.
“I tell them, ‘if your car needs an oil change, let’s do it, I can watch you and make sure you don’t damage your vehicle,'” Zimmerman said.
Students also not only learn how to replace items, such as brakes, but also learn more about how brake systems work, Zimmerman said.
With eight years of experience as an associate diesel mechanic before becoming a teacher, he brings his experience to his education.
While classes are still male-dominated, the number of women in his classes is growing, he said.
Some of the students in his classes who are disengaged or disinterested in other classes like math or English, come to life in the automobile.
“Fortunately for me, this class is an elective, so the kids choose to do it, and you see a very different side of them,” Zimmerman said. “Kids who excel for me don’t always excel in other classes. Many kids I see succeeding in this area struggle in the rest of the building. They need this space. For some of them, I’m the first person to tell them they don’t need to go to four-year college.
Students can earn up to nine credits for Madison Area Technical College through high school coursework.
While not everyone who enrolls in his courses wants to become a mechanic, some just want a better understanding of cars, he said.
In addition to having a professional garage workspace, Zimmerman has made sure his students are well equipped with tools. He said that when he was in high school, there were only two sets of tools and you often had to wait to use something.
He put together eight identical toolboxes each containing about $3,000 worth of tools.
“That way kids have what they need when they need it, and there’s no reason not to do something about it,” Zimmerman said. “There’s no reason not everyone should be working at the same time.”
Not only are the students well equipped, but the program has fostered partnerships with Smart Motors Toyota, Zimbrick Automotive, and Madison Area Technical College, where representatives have come to deliver lectures to the students.
One day, Zimmerman would even like to work on electric vehicles in the classroom. A California company sells electric car kits for students to learn about electric vehicles as they build one, but it’s $35,000 per kit.
One of the main things Zimmerman notices in his students is the change in their confidence in their ability to understand and perform maintenance on their own vehicle.
“Students are now very excited about being broken down on the side of the road, they are convinced that ‘there is something I can do if that happens’,” he said.