Creating academic programs for all students is an important part of a school leader’s job. Often, we create clear pathways for high achievers, complete with AP classes and college counseling, while other students are left to find their own way through high school. At the high school where I am assistant principal, we’ve been deliberate about mapping courses for students that lead to careers and certifications, clustering courses around students’ interests in automobiles so they can leverage that knowledge into career readiness.
Classes like woodworking and automotive repair once fell under the umbrella of trade and industrial arts. Today, if schools have them at all, they’re categorized as technology, together with courses in engineering, science, and applied mathematics, but the reality is that STEM courses often eclipse traditional industrial arts courses because of ongoing budgetary constraints, changing state mandates, and standardized testing. When school leaders need to make tough decisions, industrial arts courses are often the first to go.
My school has taken a different path: We have chosen to value and invest in both STEM and industrial arts—automotive courses specifically—because we strongly believe that we need to serve all students, including those who are not planning on going to college.
Our school’s journey began with a new program in the automotive career industry. We had a few courses that students could take in car care basics and automotive repair, but they were scattershot: There wasn’t a linear path from those courses to careers. Students could take automotive courses as electives, but there was no clear cluster of courses that would prepare them for career and certification requirements. With the support of our superintendent and board of education, our automotive teachers and principal began to think more broadly about how we could help our automotive students make a career out of their passion for cars.
What started as a brainstorming session in 2018 grew to what will be a fully functional career and certification pathway for our first cohort of incoming freshmen students in 2021–22. In the intervening three years, we collaborated with professionals in the auto industry to align our vision for a cohesive program with what skills a student starting a career in the field would need.
An important part of the planning process was gaining accreditation from the national automotive organization that grants certification—the ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) Education Foundation. In order to do this, we needed local partners in the automotive industry (dealerships and repair shops) to provide insight into how our curriculum could prepare students for jobs in the automotive field, as well as internships for students to gain real-life work experiences.