On a recent sunny Friday afternoon, Hanlees Chevrolet technician Dan Terry was talking Davis High auto tech student Derrick Coronado through the installation of a bed liner on a pickup truck.
It’s a job that likely would have gone quite a bit quicker had Terry just installed it himself, but then Coronado, a senior at DHS, wouldn’t have come away with quite the same practical knowledge that he did.
He’d never installed a bed liner before, but just like that — thanks to Terry — he had another skill under his belt.
There’s been a lot of that going on around town, not just for Coronado, but for five other student-interns working in Davis auto shops as well. All are students in DHS teacher Robbie Thayer’s Regional Occupational Program and all are getting the kind of on-the-job experience unavailable in the classroom.
“You learn a lot more working with mechanics in the field,” Coronado explained. “It’s more hands-on with different types of things.”
And even with more than two years in Thayer’s program at DHS and more than a month interning at Hanlees, “there’s still so much to learn,” Coronado added. “I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what these guys here know.”
Down the street at Hanlees Toyota, student-intern Clayton Jimenez has been putting in several hours a week shadowing technicians there.
“It’s been working very well,” said his supervisor, Rich Russo. “He watches, observes the technicians … and they love it. They get to show him what they love to do.”
That’s not to say there isn’t a small price to pay.
“It’s time-consuming talking him through everything,” Russo said, “and it will slow the technician down. But if we’re really backed up, we’ll move him over to something else.”
And the payoff is huge for students, Russo said, because there is nothing like immersion in a profession to help a student decide if that’s where his or her career path lies.
The auto repair and service profession, he noted, can be stressful and even dangerous at times, but having had the chance to observe professionals close up, “(Jimenez) has gotten a sense of that.”
All of which is the goal of “Community Classroom,” the program that makes it possible for Thayer to give his students real-world experience.
“Davis shops are extremely willing to help,” Thayer said. “In other communities, shop owners are really lukewarm. But here, I think because it’s a small town and a lot of the shop owners graduated from Davis High and took auto shop here, they see a little of themselves in these kids.
“Also, this community is just really education- and youth-focused. Everybody is really trying to help the kids along.”
Thayer reserves the internships for his upperclassmen who have taken a couple of years of his classes and have mastered the basic auto skills.
“Then I try to tap into their interests,” he said. “I ask where they would want to go, and if I can line up the internship at that place, I will.”
Right now he has students at three different Hanlees service shops — Chevrolet, Toyota and Nissan — as well as at University Honda, SpeeDee Oil Change and Tune-Up, and Center City Automotive.
The students are required to work a minimum of 3 1/2 hours per week, but nearly all are working two or three times that by choice.
“I encourage them to do that,” Thayer said, “because the more they’re there, the more they’ll learn and the more of an impression they’re going to make.”
And making a good impression could very well make for a paying job down the line.
“It’s not unusual for a shop to hire a kid at the end of the internship,” Thayer said. “It’s not certain, and I tell the kids they can’t expect it. But if these shops have had the advantage of getting to know the student … why would they hire a stranger?”
As for what interns do during their internships, that varies from place to place.
“Basically it’s at the discretion of the individual shop,” Thayer explained. “It’s whatever that shop feels is appropriate for their business and for that student. Some shops will start by having them do things like stocking, cleaning and organizing … then they’ll assign the kid to a particular technician who will take the kid under his or her wing.”
Like technician Terry at Hanlees Chevrolet.
“He’s really willing to teach me everything he knows,” Coronado said. “Everyone here teaches me. They’ve really embraced me.”
Same goes for DHS student Israel Garibay, who has been interning at SpeeDee for the last month and a half.
“If I have any questions, they’re all always happy to answer them and happy to teach me,” he said of the technicians there.
One of things that Garibay has learned on the job is just how different a business can be from the classroom.
“It’s so much faster here,” he said.
In the auto shop class, Garibay explained, a single oil change can take a while, as they talk about what they’re doing each step of the way.
At Spee-Dee, though, “it’s a business, and time is money. You definitely get a real-world experience of what an auto shop is like,” he added.
Thayer says that’s what it’s all about: “To go from being an adolescent and going through the motions of high school to suddenly being around high-functioning adults and doing something they’re interested in … totally opens their eyes on how to be in the world, how to be productive.”
What’s more, he said, “the kids are just so into it. Usually they are all smiles after a couple of shifts and they’re totally walking on air.”
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected]” or (530) 747-8051.