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February 22, 2016

FHS auto technology class among nation’s best

We get kids who come in here willing to learn, willing to make sacrifices. These kids aren’t going home and playing video games; they are going home and studying. They are making sacrifices to be successful. Those are characteristics employers are looking for as well.
— Scott Freeman, FHS auto technology teacher
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
The clanking of metal and hissing of pneumatic echo through the small garage.

Six vehicles wait for diagnostic tests or repairs.

Tucked away in the back annex of Fauquier High School, students learn basic mechanical skills on electrical systems, brakes, emissions equipment and more in two automotive technology courses.

This semester, 15 students from Liberty, Kettle Run and Fauquier high schools take the three-hour electives in the program, which ranks among the nation’s best.

On this Thursday afternoon, Automotive Technology I students rotate every 15 minutes to a different donated vehicles as they learn to diagnose engine and electrical problems.

“I took the class to keep up with my dad, who’s a tow truck driver,” said Kettle Run junior Alyssa, the only female student. “His work interests me.”

Her impression of the course?

“It’s a very dirty job,” she said.

But, Alyssa already has put her new skills into practice.

“I changed all the spark plugs in (my dad’s) tow truck one day, and he was very happy,” she said.

Automotive Technology II students split into teams to perform a front-end alignment, muffler repairs and transmission work on three teachers’ vehicles.

The Auto II course runs year-round, providing advanced skills for students seeking entry-level work after graduation or acceptance to trade schools.

The course also prepares students for certification and fosters participation in state and national competitions for scholarship money.

Five students from Fauquier High School have become state champions in the SkillsUSA automotive technology competitions.

In 2013, FHS senior Alexandra Wolfe became the first female in Virginia to win the SkillsUSA state competition before moving on to the national contest.

Last year, FHS students David Manzella and Michael Stevens finished fifth in the nation at the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills Competition. In 2013, Samuel Eleazer and Matthew Jacobs took second place.

FHS auto technology teacher Scott Freeman attributes the program’s success to his students.

“We get kids who come in here willing to learn, willing to make sacrifices,” Mr. Freeman said. “These kids aren’t going home and playing video games; they are going home and studying. They are making sacrifices to be successful. Those are characteristics employers are looking for as well.”

The accredited course combines hands-on work with in-class theory and online lessons.

Kettle Run senior Abram Baer said the Auto II class has taught him technical proficiency and to “look and think before I act.”

Anthony Ennis, another KRHS senior, hopes to attend the Universal Technical Institute after graduation.

“I like being able to do something, not sit behind a desk,” Anthony said.

The course also teaches students workplace readiness, including communication, teamwork and how to dress and act professionally, according to Mr. Freeman.

“If you’re working in a dealership, you have a service manager, service writer, parts department, technician and the customer, and all that has to fall into place to get the car fixed,” he said.

Mr. Freeman started teaching the class 15 years ago after a long career as a mechanic at dealerships in Warrenton and Northern Virginia.

His former students work at Jim Harris GMC Buick, Warrenton Auto Service, Warrenton Toyota and other local businesses.

A student who completes the auto technology course could make $10 to $15 an hour at an entry-level position after graduation.

Depending on skill, experience and vehicles, auto mechanics can make up to $100,000 a year, Mr. Freeman said.

“I always tell the kids, the best service you can give everybody is like you were never there,” Mr. Freeman said. “If you didn’t interrupt the flow of that person’s day, you did your job.”

Former student Tyler Bradfield, 24, said the course helped him get a job at Jim Harris GMC Buick in Warrenton right out of high school in 2010.

“I’ve always liked to work on cars, and taking that class led me to the next step to do that as a career,” Mr. Bradfield said.

Mr. Freeman “is a good teacher,” he added. “You don’t find many teachers who have worked (in the field). He knows how to teach and prep you for a career as a mechanic.

“That program will teach you a lot to get you in a higher spot.”

Mr. Freeman said he tries to keep his courses relevant by talking to technicians in the field, taking more than 100 hours of certified training a year and giving lessons on advanced vehicle technology.

Norman Bower, second-generation owner of Warrenton Auto Service, recently hired an FHS student who graduated from the program.

“We are always looking for some young talent, and that’s where it starts, in high school,” Mr. Bower said. “The future is people who learn how to diagnose problems . . . if a person wants to get into this field and do well.”

Eric Kaase, 48, said the FHS auto technology course he took in the 1980s launched his career

Mr. Kaase manages 18 mechanics as the service manager at Country Chevrolet, the county’s largest vehicle dealership.

“These guys work hard. They collaborate with each other,” he said. “It’s not something you can go into lighthearted. You either have to be all in or not. These guys are going to spend on average today, $3,500 on a toolbox. You are going to have 10 to 15 grand wrapped up in a set of tools, where you can make money . . . to be really effective and efficient.”

A recent high school gradate could make $15 per hour working full-time at Country Chevrolet, he added.

FHS also offers automotive body repair courses.

Prince William County and Fairfax County schools have similar auto technology courses.
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Vfauquier · February 23, 2016 at 8:42 am
Mr. Freeman puts in many after school hours every year to get his kids ready for competitions and goes the extra mile in helping his students get jobs with our local businesses. God bless you and thank you, Mr. Freeman - for all your effort, dedication and for sharing your enthusiasm for your vocation with our children.
BJ · February 22, 2016 at 6:20 pm
Congratulations all around! Bring back the trade schools of the past. While growing up many of my classmates went to trade school, not universities, to learn a trade, not get degrees in liberal arts. I have nothing against studying liberal arts, yet walking out of school with a trade, not $$$$ of dollars in student loans is a good thing in my opinion.
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