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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Auto shop is sold as STEM training

Pushed to offer more college-prep classes, California high schools have cut auto shop and other vocational classes, reports Carolyn Jones on EdSource. Now teachers argue that shop classes provide a hands-on way to teach science, technology engineering and math, or STEM.

Students learn auto repair in Hayward, California. Photo: Carolyn Jones/EdSource

“Auto shop these days is . . . about engineering, math, computers, physics, problem solving,” said Ruben Parra, president of the California Automotive Teachers and an automotive teacher at Skyline College in San Bruno. “It really is a part of STEM.”

“Schools in San Diego, Long Beach and Ukiah, among others, have recently invested in their automotive programs,” reports Jones. “At least one community college, Rio Hondo College in Whittier, offers a bachelor’s of science degree in automotive technology.”

However, equipping a modern auto shop is costly and it’s hard to find credentialed auto shop teachers, said Parra.

Jones visited the Eden Area Regional Occupational Program, which offers 135 vocational classes for high school students and adults in Hayward, south of Oakland.

Teacher Jose Sanchez, who’s taught auto repair for 21 years and worked as a mechanic at dealerships before that, said all students could benefit from auto shop, even if they don’t want to pursue it as a career. Learning how engines work is a perfect hands-on way to teach math and science, he said. Students learn physics and chemistry by studying aerodynamics, temperature differentials, lift and drag forces, instability, air and fuel ratios, combustion, carbon monoxide and other topics.

“Students need to be able to make informed decisions about what they want to do with their lives, and by only offering college prep classes schools are making that decision for them,” said John Chocolak, a veteran auto shop teacher who now works for the Small Manufacturers Institute. “Not all students want to go to college, and we’re denying them the chance to learn about other opportunities. … Auto shop, wood shop, metal shop — these can lead to great careers.”

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