Auto tech classes motivate students at a huge New York City school and prepare them for skilled jobs, writes Samuel Freedman in the New York Times. But the program is about to be junked.
On the ground floor of Kennedy, tucked between the football field and the weight room, a teacher named Manny Martinez runs an automotive technology program. In the combined garage and classroom, amid tool cabinets and hydraulic lifts and service bays, about 170 pupils a year study a ’97 Grand Am and ’96 Cavalier the way medical school students study cadavers, as a means of learning anatomy and organ function.
For many of Mr. Martinez’s charges, auto shop offers the one place and time where they experience the utility of an education. The vocational program keeps them coming to school. It has led a number of alumni into skilled jobs with dealerships and service centers, jobs that pay decent wages and benefits, jobs that boast a career ladder.
At a time in New York public education when specialized minischools are being uncritically embraced, one could plausibly say that the Kennedy auto tech program provides many of the same attributes: a focused curriculum, a motivated student body, the application of classroom knowledge in the real world. Which makes it nothing short of astonishing that within two weeks, if plans hold, the whole program will be shut down. The auto shop will be gutted, the students and teachers left directionless, several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of equipment hauled away.
Kennedy High needs to make space for three mini-schools specializing in theater, international studies and law and finance. Another Bronx high school also closed its auto tech program to make space for mini-schools. Why is there no space anywhere for a small school focused on automotive technology? The jobs are there.
Freedman is doing consistently excellent work for the Times, by the way.