Six different vehicles fill a garage at San Benito High School; a 1991 Chevy pick-up truck, a 2001 Toyota, a 2012 Volkswagen Passat, a 2008 Honda, a 2001 Ford pick-up truck and a 2004 Chrysler. At least one student hovers around each vehicle, inspecting under hoods and carriages like a busy worker bee. Yes, students. Juniors and seniors alike run about the garage, tools and clipboards in hand as they mirror the inner workings of an authentic mechanic’s shop.
The Automotive Technology Program at San Benito High School offers students a chance to work on real cars and trucks from different dealerships. The program prepares students for a career in the automotive industry or to simply learn how to fix their own vehicles in the future.
The Automotive Technology Program is certified by the National Automobile Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF). This allows students to undergo training with tools used in today’s highly technical automotive industry. According to Hector Rendon, Career and Technical Education Director, the program has been NATEF certified for 12 years and certifies the facility and equipment that is used by San Benito High School.
“[The equipment] matches what we have in the dealerships,” said Rendon. “The idea is that the training center should be as equivalent as possible with what is going to be on the jobsite.”
Along with being NATEF certified, the Automotive Technology Program is certified by Automotive Youth Educational Systems (AYES). Approximately only 350 schools in the country are both NATEF and AYES certified. The AYES component looks at the curriculum, according to Rendon. This allows for the representatives and sometimes even the owners of the dealerships to participate in the Business and Education Council; or the B&E Council. The Council sets the criteria for students when they participate in job shadowing and internships. Eligibility, amount of pay and length of time a student is at a dealership the summer of their junior year is all decided by the B&E Council. When the students become seniors, they can work half a day; similar to a cooperative education program, or co-op.
“It’s a co-op except it’s through our program; not a regular co-op that puts kids in hamburger places. We actually put them in the dealership with a mentor,” said Automotive Tech Instructor, Meliton Hinojosa. Hinojosa is one of the few automotive instructors in Texas that holds a Master’s degree in Education and has been part of San Benito High School for 30 years.
Hinojosa goes on to say that the intent is for the student to do some job shadowing or internship and continue their college education or the complete the manufacturing training program. This means the student will become an asset to that dealership. In addition, since training is different at each dealership, where a student receives his or her training is more than likely where they will stay for employment.
While some students became involved in the program in order to gain a better knowledge of their vehicles and how to approach future issues, others joined because of a true enthusiasm for cars.
“I really have a passion for cars so that’s why I joined the program,” said 17-year-old junior, David Moreno. “I want to keep on going with it and go to college with it. The teacher recommends San Jacinto and I’d really like to work with Fords.”
According to Rendon, the students become full-time employees upon completion of the manufacturing program. This is possible partly due to San Benito High School’s advantage of teaching its students five of the eight areas seen in dealerships today; electrical/electronics, suspension and steering, brakes, engine performance and light and maintenance.
The AYES program allows the students to have a direct link with the manufacturers which is how San Benito High School receives vehicles, tools and equipment for its students so nothing is a shock come graduation from the program.
Of the participating dealerships, some include Gillman, Cardenas Motors, Charlie-Clark Nissan and Burt Ogden. According to Rendon, the current B&E Chairman is Pablo de Paola, the Fixed Asset Manger from Burt Ogden and former AYES student. Rendon went on to say De Paola already came to the classroom and talked with the students, getting them excited about the automotive industry.
“He’s a real supporter of the program,” said Hinojosa. “It’s because of the AYES program that he’s at where he’s at and it’s awesome showing our students what they could become.”