Reedley High drives next generation of auto mechanics


Reedley High School car shop undergoes all-new look, steers a long-term career path for students towards automobile industry

REEDLEY – Seven years of combined efforts to upgrade Reedley High’s auto shop has paid off with a ceremonial announcement of its official completion.
The ceremony took place on Jan. 20 just outside the shop’s new garage doors. The facility underwent a complete remodel that will benefit students interested in navigating a career in the automotive repair industry with top-of-the-line equipment as they earn first-hand experience through the shop. Following the ceremony, staff and the school’s mechanic students gave the community a peek under the hood of their automotive stomping grounds.
“A big takeaway for my students is that they get a basic knowledge of the automobile industry,” Reedley High automotive instructor Gustavo Mendoza said. “They may go on to pursue other careers, but if not, they’re going to be able to—from front to back—fix a car.”
Although still quite fresh in his position at Reedley High, where he started teaching just last year, Mendoza came into the role with years of experience that he shares with his students. In the auto shop, he said students learn how to do basic car checks like tire rotations, vehicle inspections, brake alignments and tire balancing. That way, if his students make the decision to pursue a long-term automotive career or continue their training at Reedley College, they can do so safely and with confidence.
Oscar Leon, Reedley High senior, said the new shop will further assist students like himself as they get an idea of what they would like to achieve as they look towards their futures.
“I feel like a lot of us really want to keep going in the automotive industry, so I think this gives us a big advantage because a lot of the other people that want to do this, don’t have this opportunity,” Leon said. “It’ll help us succeed a lot [further].”
Remodeling the school’s auto shop has improved its standards, technology and curriculum to best match what other car dealerships and automotive shops are operating with, according to Fabrizo Lafaro. Lafaro is the superintendent of Valley ROP (regional occupation program), which seeks to supply quality career technical education to support student academic and career success for a handful of Fresno County school districts, including Reedley High. This won’t just supply students with better equipment and academic tools, however; Lafaro said the next step is to get the shop certified through the Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) education foundation.
As it stands now, students who complete this three-year course are eligible for Reedley High’s dual enrollment program with Reedley College. There, they have a straight shot at continuing their automotive education through the college’s own program. With the ASE certification, however, Reedley High students who complete the course will—in a sense—have a stamp of approval that proves their skills match that of an entry level technician, expanding their opportunities even further. Even if they don’t seize those possibilities, Lafaro said students can benefit from the course regardless.
“These are life-long skills,” Lafaro said. “We have plenty of boys and girls that will not go into the industry, but now they’re not afraid to open the hood. They’re not afraid to check the oil, they’re not afraid to change their oil and rotate their tires.”
Reedley High School senior William Ramos shared similar sentiments. He said the school’s automotive program helps students understand the function of different car parts and their operations and doesn’t just provide them with job opportunities, but skills in self-sustainment as well.
“Say if our car breaks down, we already know what to do,” Ramos said. “We don’t have to take it somewhere, we can just do it ourselves. It just gives us an extra level of skills to learn.”
Furthermore, Lafaro said another step the school and district wants to take for the auto shop is to eventually create a small automotive service at the high school. Right now, students fine-tune their skills on mock cars provided by the school. Lafaro said the hope is to take it even further and open the shop up to other students and staff, so automotive students can put their skills to the test and provide basic car services in their improved work space.
With the improvements brought to the school’s car shop, Reedley High senior Brandon Rios said students like himself are excited to finally be back in their workroom. Now that it’s back in action, he said students are able to better achieve some visual, hands-on work.
“[In the shop] you actually get to learn what certain bolts do, what certain wrenches do,” Rios said. “Last year, it wasn’t at its best, but this year, we’ve upgraded all of our equipment. Now we’re working with the latest stuff.”
According to Lafaro, the auto shop upgrade was funded by Proposition 51 money and matched by Kings Canyon Unified School District;s (KCUSD) own revenues. Approved by Californians in 2016, Prop 51 is state funding used to improve and build new facilities for school districts. He said the renovation totaled to just over $1 million and that’s not including the price of the shop’s new equipment, which came out to approximately half a million.
At the ceremonial announcement, KCUSD superintendent John Campbell said, from a global standpoint, that the term “equity” has been thrown around a lot in education. However, he said Kings Canyon Unified has continued to maintain equity for its students by doing what’s best for its kids and supplying them with what they need. He said there are still many roles in maintenance-esque careers that need to be filled, and that careers in those fields are all just as honorable as pursuing a college education.
“College isn’t for every single child,” Campbell said. “We need to work with our kids to give them the opportunities to do what they want to do.”
On the initial reasoning behind upgrading Reedley High’s auto shop, principal John Ahlin said the school has always established a goal towards creating multiple pathways for student opportunities. Regardless if students decide to take their education to local colleges, larger universities or seize hands-on work, he said the school wants to ensure when students leave the school, they’re career ready. He said the reason it took a lengthy time to get the auto shop into what it is now is because the school wanted a top-notch facility.
“We didn’t want to just remodel and get a facility we weren’t really proud of,” Ahlin said. “This is a facility we can be really proud of because it has all the technology and all of the [necessary] industry standards [needed].”
In addition to the automotive shop, Reedley High School also recently established new classroom buildings for the school’s special education department. Reedley High special education instructor Anthony Domenici said during the ceremony that the classrooms built surpassed his department’s expectations. With 15 years of experience as a special education teacher, he said there has been no district that compares to Kings Canyon Unified in terms of dedication and addressing the care needed for students with special needs.
“All too often, our population goes unnoticed, uncared for or ignored,” Domenici said. “That has not ever been the case with KCUSD.”
Facilities were also added to the school’s recently completed soccer field, which was updated about a year and half ago. Recently, the field has received new concessions and bathroom facilities. Ahlin said the newly updated soccer field is noteworthy to the school because it puts a lot of importance on student’s interest in soccer, especially since the school’s boy’s varsity soccer team made it to Division One championships last year.
“We wanted to make sure we had not only a great playing field, but a facility that could host big tournaments and big games,” Ahlin said.