Vincent Sallee is comfortable with a wrench in his hand, working on solving a problem under the hood of a car.
The senior at Brandywine High School in Niles, Mich. has four years of auto shop experience under his belt, so he feels confident as he pursues a career in auto maintenance after high school.
"This is probably the best program around here so it's taught me a lot," said Sallee, who will attend the University of Northwestern Ohio after graduating this year. "A lot of my family works on cars, like my dad and uncle. I always felt like it was a good thing to know and I like doing it, so why not do it as a job?"
Sallee and other students are benefitting from an upgrade to Brandywine High School's auto shop. Jim Boger, assistant principal, said the school recently devoted a good chunk of financing toward the purchase of new equipment for the department.
Auto instructor Jeremy Tilly said the shop received a new strut compressor, tire changer, parts washer and several new hand tools, among many other things. In the spring, the shop floor will be re-coated, giving it a professional look.
"We updated our equipment list -- a lot of odds and ends where we upgraded to equipment that is being used in the auto field today," he said. "Now, the students are familiar with it from day one. They don't have to relearn something they already know how to use."
Sallee, who acts as a student assistant in auto shop class, is enjoying the new equipment, too.
"We have really good stuff here right now -- it's like what you'd find at an auto shop," he said.
Although he is going to college, Sallee said he could likely get an entry-level job in the automotive field right now if he wanted to.
"I'd feel all right with finding a job -- I've been working on cars for a long time," he said. "I think if people stick with it all the way through high school -- even if they aren't going to go any further -- they would at least be well off working on their own car, maybe save some money."
There are more than 60 students taking automotive classes at Brandywine High School. Tilly said his students range from those like Sallee, who take four years of auto shop, to seniors who have little experience with auto maintenance.
All can benefit from the shop.
"Two of my other four year students are working at oil change places, and last year I had a kid that is now working at Zolman's Tire," he said. "Not every kid I have pursues an automotive career, but they learn how to change brakes, change their own oil -- they can repair their car at home and save a little bit of money."
Students work on real vehicles, doing everything from changing tires and oil to fixing brakes. Many of the vehicles students work on are owned by school staff, while others vehicles come from the community.
The labor is free, so customers only pay for parts.
Tilly said the shop could use more vehicles to work on. Those interested can contact Tilly at (269) 683-4800 ext. 221.
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