Jacksonville Students get their hands dirty in training program
Juniors David Villegas ( left), Cody Potteet (center) and Austin Essex (right) work on assembling a go-cart engine during a class.
When Austin Essex completes his Master Service Technician certification next year, the teen will have the skills to rebuild a go-cart engine from scratch, repair small engines, such as lawn mowers, without help and start building toward his own business.
The Jacksonville High School junior is in his first year of the Master Service Technician Program, which is part of the curriculum taught in the high school's Advanced Small Engine course. So far, he said he's enjoyed it.
"It's been a learning experience. I came in (knowing) a little about oil changes and some diagnostic stuff, but it's really expanded my horizon on it. It's been pretty fun," he said, adding that he was working on a go-cart engine, which will be built from the ground up.
He said he'd like one day to be able to work on his own equipment, and if he wanted, start his own shop.
Essex is one of 17 students involved in the program this year. The program is different because of how the school works with small engine parts manufacturer Briggs and Stratton Corporation, staff members said. The school uses curriculum from Briggs and Stratton, and the company provides engines as well as some testing equipment.
Kyle Lock, assistant principal of the high school Career and Technology Department, said the program has now moved to the next level thanks to students working hard, painting the shop and setting it up to where people can see stations. The shop includes a tear down station in the back, a tool room and a mock parts store.
"Our students have done a lot of the work getting all this put together, and Briggs and Stratton is good to us in donating the motors," Lock said.
This is the full second year of the certification program.
In the 1990s, high school officials wanted to shift from an automotive program to a small engine program, said Career and Technology teacher Larry Smith, who used to work at NASA. So he attended workshops in Milwaukee, Wis. with Briggs and Stratton, and the officials decided to get the company's curriculum, which it still uses.
Years passed, but the program never got off to good start until recently, when officials wanted to go with a two-year certification program where students end up with a master service technician certificate, Smith said.
Senior Daine Anderson, who was selected as November's Student of the Month for the Career and Technology Education Department, already is on his way to that accomplishment.
He already has taken some of his exams, giving him three certificates -- basic 4-cycle theory, basic compression and intermediate failure analysis. He also worked last summer at an individual shop.
"I am very excited about it and very ready to get through the course, going through it test by test leading up to the certification," Anderson said.
He plans to use the certification, possibly in an interim certificate grade job or at a small engine dealership, while getting certified in automotive training.
Smith hopes to have at least 12 students who are certified by the end of the school year.
"It was a springboard last year, and this year, we are fully into it. Hopefully by the end of this year we'll see some good results by these certificates," Smith said. "We're off to a good start."
Before starting the program, freshmen and sophomores take introduction courses, then they move on to learn about the core of the outdoor power equipment industry, from four-wheelers to weed eaters and go-carts.
Students entering the certification program must take about 38 tests in two years and can receive certificates in things such as fuel systems, electrical systems and exhaust systems.
Smith, who is certified by the Equipment & Engine Training Council in all areas of outdoor power equipment, said those students spend a lot of time in the classroom and get some hands-on experience. For instance, on Monday, some of the students were rebuilding an engine.
"We do a lot of diagnostics in here," Smith said as his students worked. "They'll be doing diagnostics the latter part of the year, and with the engines supplied they can destroy engines by allowing them to run without oil and ingesting dirt and debris into them. Then they can see what actually happens out in the field. Then they can inspect it and see what caused it to fail."
Students also can learn from the new mock parts store at the school.
Smith said it allows them to go behind the counter and learn how to sell parts and greet customers.
"It's there so we can see it and see how it would work if one is in a parts department," he said.
Like Essex, another student, David Villegas, said he has had a good experience and helped fix a tiller for the horticulture department and learned to work on small engines.
Smith said the end goal is for students to be able to go into a business of their own or work in a large dealership.
They could go into "any area of that industry. They can be in the parts business or service or a technician," he said.
In addition to the benefits for students' careers, the program also can be beneficial to the community, Career and Technology staff members said.
Smith said people also should know that once Jacksonville High School is an accredited school with the Equipment & Engine Training Council, the school then can be a testing facility for the state.
That means outdoor power equipment dealers could send their technicians to the school, and it could do the testing for technicians looking to further their education.
Lock said residents also are able to bring their equipment to the high school for repair, and the community has learned more about the program through commercials on channel 20, a local cable network.
"Everybody has a lawn mower and (is) always having to figure why won't it crank?" Lock said. "We thought about that last year and decided to do a series of commercials and explain how to change oil in a lawn mower and winterize a lawn mower."
He said the school even did a commercial for Briggs and Stratton, and they liked it so much, they asked permission to use that with their company.
Lock said a communitywide program also might be offered in the future, where people interested could take a course and learn more about engines and other equipment. In the meantime, he said certifications are the focus.
"We're pioneering a program here that most schools don't have, and I think once we have it, we'll ... become a spokesperson for other schools that want the program," Smith said.