We’re not driving Model Ts anymore: Schools upgrade auto classes

HARLINGEN — Talk about a makeover.

The Harlingen school district is planning to spend almost $300,000 on a major overhaul of its auto collision and repair class.

“To get the kids ready for the industry, we’re required to have updated equipment,” said Raul Alvarez, director of the district’s Career and Technology Education department, or CTE.

The new equipment is being paid for by a grant from the Jobs and Education for Texas (JET) program overseen by the Texas Workforce Commission. The program allocates money to colleges and school districts to help with the cost of developing CTE programs.

“We are utilizing the grant for the Transportation, Distribution and Logistics Program with the main focus on the autocollision and repair,” said Jessica Hruska, special program and grants specialist.

The Transportation, Distribution and Logistics Program has one other program, automotive technology, also known as the mechanics class.

Alvarez said several requirements in the grant application made the auto body class a perfect fit. The district has already applied for another TWC grant to upgrade the autobody class. He hasn’t received an answer yet.

The district will soon go out for bids to purchase new equipment for the autobody shop.

“The equipment includes an industrial painting booth,” Alvarez said. “We want to get a better one.”

Painting booths are stalls in which cars are parked so workers, or in this case employees, can perform paint jobs and other body work.

The purchase of the new equipment — an automotive lift, jacks, ventilation systems — will allow students to learn more autobody related skills.

“They’ll be learning current, industry related skills that the market is requiring for these kids to possess,” Alvarez said.

These are skills students can’t learn with the older equipment.

“We were doing the best that we could,” Alvarez said. “We were doing the best to sustain, but we were not up to the industry level.”

The automotive lifts currently on the market come in different shapes, sizes and styles, depending on the needs of the shop.

“They allow the kids to actually work and fix the cars in a safer setting,” Alvarez said. “We’d like the rotisserie which is another big item. You put the body frame on there and it can twist and turn around almost 360 degrees. It kind of allows you to work from the bottom up.”

This is quite a shift from what students have been doing for quite some time.

“We were able to do minor repairs but not full-body paneled repair to the extent of the rest of the market,” Alvarez said.

As a result, autobody students who graduated from Harlingen High School and continued at TSTC might be aware of some of this work but they’d never practiced it themselves.

That’s about to change. Alvarez said the district plans to outfit its autobody class to make it comparable with that of TSTC. Once this alignment is complete, Harlingen students will be able to earn dual credit.

“What we want to do is give the kids a jump start,” Alvarez said. “The kids can start banking credit and transition over to TSTC or even faster. They can go over to the job market and already have knowledge and know-how to handle certain tools and equipment.”

The grant money will also be used to create an automotive lab equipped with 30 iMAC computers sophisticated enough to run 3D-simulations of paint jobs.

“With another software program they will learn how to assess a vehicle for insurance,” he said.

A grant agreement with TWC will be signed on Monday, Hruska said. The district will then go out for bids which she said would take about six weeks. Installation of the equipment will begin in October, and she expected everything to be operational in time for the spring semester.

Soon, autobody repair students from the Harlingen school district won’t just be taking a high school class, they’ll be taking a profession. They’ll learn skills they can take with them on whatever path they choose.