Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Students build futures in old-school shop classes

By: Jill Tucker | SF Chronicle 

Derek Kwan, 17, tightens a bolt on a Porsche 914 during auto shop class at
Washington High School. Photo: Leah Millis, The Chronicle

Several engine blocks sat on racks near an early 1980s white Volkswagen Rabbit and a slightly beat-up, bright yellow Porsche 914 on a lift.

A greasy garage smell wafted out the door.

High school students - including one in a Members Only jacket, another in a "Star Wars" shirt and a third in a Robert Plant concert T - tinkered with wrenches, screwdrivers and other tools, a couple huddled under the Porsche.



Last week.

Along with '80s pop culture, high school auto shop has made a comeback at Washington High School in San Francisco, with students learning the ins and outs of car repair and maintenance and earning elective course credit for it.

The class is among a growing list of career-based courses at high schools that offer students a taste of possible vocations - much like the old shop classes - while acknowledging that college is still critical for the vast majority of 21st century job options.

The course was added to the school's list of electives last year. At Washington and across the country, old-school shop classes were phased out over the past few decades as public education rejected the tracking of students into either college or blue-collar careers. In recent years, schools have revisited the idea, creating career-based classes that often count as a college-prep courses as well as providing exposure to different lines of work. Courses in hospitality, construction and medicine are among the offerings.

The new future

While it feels like a blast from the past, the course is intent on helping students find a future, said Principal Ericka Lovrin.

"It's not so much the old vocational" education, she said. "It's preparing students for the new future of technology and industry."

And in that future, as in the past, people will be driving cars.

People will be needed to design them, build them, test them, plan for them and, yes, fix them. All of those skills will probably need education past high school, if not a college degree.

Many of today's teens, however, don't know much about cars or motorcycles or trucks, how they work or how to do basic repairs.

And the students often don't know what a socket wrench is, or the difference between a Phillips screwdriver and a flat head.

The course curriculum includes all that, said teacher Andre Higginbotham, a high school history teacher who wanted to be a mechanic when he was a child.

Practical knowledge


The class "isn't just about being a mechanic," Higginbotham said. "A lot of these kids are interested in science."

On Tuesday, many of the students worked on model cars that they would later race and purposely crash.
The assignment was intended to teach them how an axle works and the difference between potential and kinetic energy, as well as design elements that increase durability.

"It's just an awesome experience," senior Naim Algaheim, 17, said as he put the gas tank back on a motorcycle. "There aren't classes like this anymore."

Naim, in the Members Only jacket, doesn't think he'll be a mechanic; he's thinking more about a career in business.

But if his car breaks down on the side of a road, he wants to have an idea why, he said.

Elective fills up quickly


About 30 students are taking the class, offered just one period during the school day and also as a twice-a-week after-school program, which is open to students from across the district.

Local 1414 machinists helped get the old shop classroom, mothballed for years, cleaned up and outfitted.
Higginbotham was recruited to teach it last year, and for sixth period each day he happily pulls on blue coveralls over his history-class shirt and tie.

"It's awesome coming to work," he said. "I'm a history nerd, and now I get to mess around with cars and call it work."

While the after-school program still has openings, the sixth-period elective class quickly filled with 30 students before the school year started.

While his classmates tested their model cars, propelled by mousetraps, junior Tyson Krug, 16, held his, wondering why it would go only a few inches. Maybe it was the gobs of glue around the wheels, or perhaps not enough potential energy in the string-mousetrap mechanism.

Higginbotham, wandering among the groups of students, paused at Tyson's table.

"This is great," the teacher said, asking how it was going and getting a frown in response. "This is why we do it."

Moving beyond mistakes


Engineers and car designers also mess up before they come up with a good design, he told Tyson.
Mechanics have to guess and test to see what's wrong with a car.

That's real life, Higginbotham said.

"Screw up like 10 more times," he said. "You'll finally get it."

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Teaching Comes Naturally

By Melanie Pepper | KQED

Growing up, I wanted to be exactly like my two older brothers. They were my tree-climbing, river-swimming and garden-tending heroes. Their deep love for the earth quickly made me an ally and student of Mother Nature.

Now, as a recent college graduate, I'm transforming this love into a profession. Every day I work with San Francisco public elementary school students to bring science learning to life in an outdoor classroom. I'll admit it's not always easy. Where I work, some students have lives that make doing well in school a challenge. One bright but struggling 3rd grade student comes to mind. He showed me, in one afternoon, exactly why I do what I do.

For weeks his classroom teacher and I brainstormed ways to manage his behavior, without much success. Then, one day after school I saw him hanging around the yard. I invited him to join me as I worked in the garden and was pleasantly surprised when he enthusiastically ran over.

I taught him how to place a young lettuce plant into the soil. Then he planted another by himself. Before I knew it, he was totally engaged. We worked side by side for a while. The door for deeper connection opened.

I asked how school was going. He brought up having trouble with fractions in math. So we made up some simple fractions using the lettuce plants. How many heads of lettuce did we have here? How many had red leaves? How can we show that as a fraction? Immediately he was drawn into the lesson. I pulled out my white board and soon he was scribbling fractions all on his own. And he didn't stop at the lettuce. He also created fractions to describe the pea plants, the carrots, the kale and even our garden tools. We had taken a simple math concept and found a way to apply it to something tangible that he enjoyed. In the weeks to come, I watched his math skills improve and his leadership in class garden visits grow.

I hope to connect with many more students like him. Whether it's math, science or language arts, the garden provides natural points of entry to educational curriculum for all ages. And, just as my brothers fostered the love for nature within me, I try to inspire the future leaders of tomorrow to be strong students and stewards of our Earth.

With a Perspective, this is Melanie Pepper.

Melanie Pepper is a member of the Education Outside Corps. She teaches at Sanchez Elementary School in San Francisco.

San Francisco school reintroduces auto shop class

By: Lyanne Melendez | ABC Ch. 7

We're going to take you down memory lane when high schools offered auto shop as part of the curriculum. One high school in San Francisco is revving up its program and encouraging other students to sign up. 

Few schools in the Bay Area encourage high school students to get down and dirty to repair cars. George Washington High in San Francisco is reintroducing car shop as part of its curriculum.

"I just like the feeling of messing with cars and you can tweak cars and all of that," said student Derek Kwan.
"I feel girls should know. If your car breaks down on the side of the road, you should know how to get out and fix that, you know," said student Adina Vasquez.

We saw some older pictures of the auto shop which closed in 2006 after the teacher retired.
The last time I saw a high school auto shop was in a movie and there was even a catchy song that went with it -- "Greased Lightning" in the hit movie "Grease."

"Oh yeah, favorite movie, I love that movie," said Vasquez.

So why now? Why reintroduce something that many considered long gone? Many educators are finally realizing that there should be other options for students other than college.

"It's not simply an issue of sending kids to college, it's really preparing our students to be ready for the world and it's college and career," said Mark Alvarado from the San Francisco Unified School District.

The trade unions and Toyota gave most of the money to restart the program at Washington High School. Today there is a competition among auto dealers to secure good mechanics. Many predict there will be a shortage of technicians in the near future.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nation's demand for auto mechanics is expected to grow about 17 percent from 2010-2020 adding 124,800 jobs.

"If you are succeeding in that career, you are going to be very well compensated, job security is there because, like I said, the number of cars is not getting any smaller," said Igor Giderman from Toyota San Francisco.

Someone starting out as a maintenance technician earns almost $18 an hour or $36,000 a year. A more experienced master technician can earn six figures. That could be an attractive proposition for many of these students.

And students from other high schools in San Francisco can take that course after school at Washington High.