RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Everybody who’s seen the movie “Back to the Future” may recall Marty McFly’s near double-take when he sees a car pull into a service station and immediately be surrounded by guys cleaning the windshield, checking the oil, checking the tire pressure and pumping gas.
In a sense, Rio Rancho Public Schools — and countless school districts around the country — are going back in time, realizing there’s a need for auto mechanics and other trades, and it’s no longer necessary to prepare the graduates to be college-ready or join the military.
CTE — career-technical education — is becoming the rage, so to speak, and the Automotive Technical Program is set to start when January rolls around at the district’s transportation center. The registration deadline is Dec. 2.
CTE fields already available for Cleveland and Rio Rancho high schools are in engineering, computer science, culinary arts, audio and video, the bio-medical field and education — and more are envisioned.
“We want to give kids all these opportunities,” said Benton Spradlin, RRPS’s CTE program coordinator. “There’s something for everybody.”
Job opportunities await, he said, and the future need for students getting into CTE fields looks good.
“We need to be responsible about what we add,” Spradlin said, and make sure school schedules, available classrooms and certified teachers are available. “We’re taking a hard look at adding … electrical, HVAC, plumbing and pipe-fitting.”
Acquiring partners is an important facet.
Nearby Central New Mexico Community College is one, with the added value of some dual-credit possibilities. Don Chalmers Ford is a partner in the new automotive program, and has made parts and equipment available, including a tire machine and a tire-balancer.
Students completing the new program will have an understanding of the transportation industry and its many career options, as well as the hands-on skills required of an entry-level automotive technician performing basic maintenance and light repair.
Courses include lecture and discussion relating to the principles of transportation technology and hands-on lab exercises in an automotive shop environment. Students completing the program will have the opportunity to take Student Automotive Service Excellence exams, and can potentially receive certifications in multiple skill areas.
They will have the opportunity to earn Ford training credentials through the Ford Automotive Career Exploration program.
To enter the program, juniors need to have a minimum grade-point average of 2.0, have a good attendance record, be willing to take a double-block class and complete and submit a four-question response essay. The 2020-21 school year will expand to sophomores and juniors, in addition to this year’s juniors, who will be seniors.
Not only is the course free, but also participants from CHS and RRHS will be transported to the RRPS transportation center for the hands-on portion of the course. The class is filling fast, so interested students should see their counselors soon for applications.
Independence High and Cyber Academy juniors may also register, but RRPS won’t transport them.
Longtime “wrencher” Jim Gore will instruct the expected 30-40 students — boys and girls — from all four high schools in the district, and even home-schoolers.
“I grew up a car guy,” Gore said, with a fondness for the ‘60s muscle cars, but proud of his first car, a 1964 Rambler station wagon.
He has several decades of experience, including time on the flight line in the Air Force.
Gore said he’ll write the curriculum as the class progresses, and so far has it broken down with a theory section and a lab section like this:
• Introduction to transportation, with emphasis on power sources, electric and automated;
• Suspension and brakes;
• Electronics and computer controls; and
• Alternative means of power.
Gore said students will be able to work on cars in the two-vehicle bay at the transportation center, and wouldn’t be surprised to find interest in motorcycles and possibly watercraft and aircraft.
“A lot of them will be interested in diesel,” he added.
“This whole CTE piece is opening doors,” Spradlin added, crediting State Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, for a legislative appropriation, plus RRPS board members Catherine Cullen and Ryan Parra for their diligence in getting CTE underway and expanding.
“The CTE umbrella has expanded,” Spradlin concluded.