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CTE in Action: SHS Automotive
Meet the Teacher: Mark Simmons, SHS Automotive
How long have you been teaching?
I've been teaching at Springfield High School for about 14 years, and worked as an assistant in the auto shop for two years while taking college classes.
Have you always liked to work with your hands?
I came from a low socioeconomic family in rural southern Ohio. Hard work was a necessity just to put food on the table. We had huge gardens and hunted. I built my first bike from parts that I traded for. In the 6th grade I got my first job doing yard work on a 500 acre beef and crop farm. I learned a lot about mechanics and about life and took pride in everything I did on the farm. My high school had a vocational agriculture Program and I was a member of FFA and 4-H. I bought my first fixer-upper car at the age of 15 and spent over a year making it road ready. During this time I worked in a couple of automotive shops trying to learn the basics of automotive mechanics.
How did you decide to become a teacher?
My junior year the farm was sold and I decided to join the Air Force. I was an aircraft mechanic for 6 years in the Air Force, then completed work on my commercial aircraft maintenance license and worked in aviation another ten years before going back to school.In the Air Force I was made to teach first aid and found that I liked doing it. When I became a Staff Sargent in the Air Force I was assigned to train new airmen coming in. I found that I had a knack for explaining how the systems on the jet fighters worked and enjoyed training and evaluating the success of these young men and women who were new to the service. I decided to go back to school, starting with a Bachelors degree in Technical Education and later a Masters in English as a Second Language (ESL).
How long have you been at Springfield High?
I have been teaching about 14 years at Springfield High School and worked as an assistant in the SHS Auto Shop for two years while I was taking college classes.
My wife is a social studies teacher and I helped by chaperoning students on trips, and I believe that is how I was pulled to public education. The biggest reward is watching students have success and completing a project in which they thought could never be done. All of us need to feel success. With some of my students I believe it might be the first time for them to feel that pride that accomplishing this type of work brings.
Springfield High has one of the last remaining automotive programs in the area. Why do you think that is?
Many schools, such as Willamette High, once had a full automotive program, but due to cutbacks now teach only a few automotive classes like Car Care and Small Gas Engines. The national trend is moving away from automotive being taught at the high school level. Some districts have created skill centers or vocational schools that draw students form several high schools their junior and senior years. [Editor's Note: Thurston High's automotive program was dropped in the 90s.]
Why do you think programs like this are so important?
All Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs teach real-life problem-solving that is difficult to simulate in a regular classroom setting. When a student makes or fixes something it creates ownership for them and takes both mental and physical engagement. There is a tangible product or result when they finish. We are a throw-away society, and often the first time a student has repaired or built something is because they are in a CTE classroom setting.
Statistics show that kids who are taking some CTE classes tend to stay in school more than others. Do you believe this is true?
I often hear students remark that the only reason they come to school is because of their CTE classes. I believe it goes back to that body and mind connection. When we engage our body and our brain working with something that we can touch, it becomes an integral piece of who we are. Many students need to see and feel a finished product.
Springfield has an amazingly supportive community. Can you speak to how that helps you as a teacher?
Our community partnerships are critical for the success of our CTE programs. Operating costs of these programs are expensive, and the district funding for my program covers around 15% of the operation costs in any given year. Community members donating cars and the support we get from companies like Kendall Automotive Group, Guaranty Chevrolet, and many smaller shops, are what allow us to have a thriving program.
Can you cite any particular students who have found success with your program?
Well, you already know about Leyah, who is doing great. It is really hard to focus on just one story of one student, though. I have former students who stop in and show me the new truck they bought and share with me where they are working and what is happening in their life. It nice to know that you played a positive role in their life and helped shape their future. It is nice to see how proud they are of what they have accomplished.
Meet the Student: Leyah Krimbow, SHS Senior
All four years - I'm now at the highest level class.
Did you have any particular interest or experience with cars before you started?
Not, not at all. I didn't think I was mechanically inclined at all. I didn't really think I'd be good at it.
What prompted you to take auto shop?
It actually wasn't my choice. I was behind on credits in my freshman year, and got put in the beginner class, small gas engines. I tried to drop it, but I was advised not to. So I stuck with it, and ended up really liking it. The next year, I took Car Care, simple stuff, and I went on from there.
What career plans did you have before you started taking shop classes?
I wanted to join a SWAT team. Watched a lot of movies.
And now what do you think you'd like to do?
I would love to go to Embry Riddle in Arizona for aerospace engineering and astronomy. In the shop, I realized I loved the mechanical part of the class. (Electrical not so much. Batteries kinda scare me.) So at first I started looking into mechanical engineering, then I started turning to space. [My teacher] Mark used to work on airplanes, and he kind of inspired me. Do you know how cool it would be to say that you helped to build a spaceship?
So maybe you could be an engineer in space!
Yes!! When I was little, I wanted to go to space, live on planets, go to the moon. If I got that far, I would be so happy! I'd love to be the engineer for the Mars trip.
Talk about being one of a handful of girls in the automotive program.
It can definitely be hard to be a woman in a man's world. I grew up with two older male cousins, so I'm kind of used to it. There are only two of us girls in the leadership program, out of 16 or 17 kids. I see women being treated differently all the time. Men will often come over to help a woman - even if I don't really need it.
What's been your biggest accomplishment in the shop?
I took out a whole Subaru engine to replace the timing belt. It worked perfectly!
Do you fix your family's cars?
I don't have the tools I need at home, but I do get to bring cars in to work on. Right now I'm trying to fix my KIA.
What would you tell other girls who are thinking of going into a career in science or technology?
I would tell them don't be intimidated. The work is hard, and full of males, but you'll do fine. I actually think girls have the better brainpower.
Are you a pretty good student?
I didn't have a great freshman year, but now I'm taking chemistry and pre-calculus. Auto shop has definitely helped my grades - it makes me want to go to school.
What do you do in your free time?
I was on the swim team and will probably play softball. I like to draw. And I watch a lot of dorky NASA shows.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I have always wanted to join the military, so I can see the Air Force first, then college, depending on funding. After that, my main goal is to be working for NASA.