John Anderson has been the auto shop teacher at Agoura High School in Agoura Hills, CA, for 38 years. During that time, he has built a program that features work bays, hydraulic lifts and computerized diagnostic machines. Many students attend the school just so they can learn from Anderson.
Below is the article as it appeared on the Daily News Los Angeles website.
Rare auto shop class at Agoura High School provides top-notch, real-world, hands-on experience
By Tony Castro, Staff Writer
Updated: 04/18/2010 07:20:43 PM PDT
Tucked in a corner of Agoura High School beyond the basketball gym and the baseball field is a real extracurricular gem in these days when car repair can cost thousands of dollars.
In a lot paying tribute to Southern California’s car culture amid a cacophony of deep exhaust sounds, you’ll find the school’s auto shop learning center.
And it’s not your grandfather’s auto shop class.
"Cars keep changing all the time — the technology is incredible," says auto shop teacher John Anderson, "and the way of repairing them has too."
So, too, have the students.
If they swagger a bit like confident jocks, it might be because two of Anderson’s students – Dylan Landy, 18, from Agoura Hills and Evan Weller, 18, from West Hills – just returned from New York with the fifth place prize in the national automotive technology competition.
"It was only fifth place," says Landy. "We wanted to win first."
The reason he sounds a bit disappointed sits just a few feet away: An immaculate navy Lexus SC 430 convertible sports car that the school received last year when its automotive tech team won the top national prize.
"The car is for educational purposes only," said Anderson. "It can’t be driven on the street. It’s not licensed. It’s not registered. It’s not insured."
The Lexus seems to symbolize what the auto shop classes have meant to the students over the past four decades – at a time when most high schools shut down the auto shop programs that once were commonplace.
"Today, it’s hard to find auto shop teachers," said Anderson, who was an auto tech and shop manager before returning to college and getting a degree and teaching certificate — both necessary for someone to teach auto shop in a high school.
The paradox of finding a rare auto shop high school class here is that Agoura Hills, with a median family annual income of over $127,000, is better known for soccer moms and modern suburbia than vocational schooling.
A sampling of other schools in the area found only one school with a similar program — Calabasas High School, which has an auto class, but not an auto shop on campus.
Anderson, 63, said he remembered when auto shop classes were offered at most high schools — sometimes as electives where administrators channelled students who were not college-bound.
Those classes fell out of favor, he said, as the philosophy of high school education switched to insisting that all students work toward college.
"That was a shame," said Anderson, "because some students really need this. This is what keeps them in school. They come here for this class. Not everyone is going to go to a four-year school right off the bat. I know I didn’t."
Today good auto techs also can earn more than college-educated teachers.
"That was one of the things I had to get used to when I went into teaching," said Anderson. "The trade-off was that I lost about 30 percent in earnings."
For the last 38 years, Anderson has been the auto shop teacher at Agoura, building up the now widely recognized program. He has earned such a reputation among young car buffs that many youngsters flock to the school just to learn from him.
"I was actually going to go to El Camino (High School) but that wasn’t really what I wanted to do, and they had auto shop here," said Weller. "And this is pretty much the only reason I came to this school — because they had auto shop."
Students say they also know that "Mr. A" can help them move on to earn their tech certification that can lead to jobs.
But both Landy and Weller said that after graduation they plan to either attend a community college for further schooling or get their auto tech certification.
"Some of our students go on to become auto techs but some of my students are also service managers," said Anderson. "We have three former students who are service managers in Thousand Oaks alone."
His students also understand that the shop where they learn and work is a testament to their teachers’ dedication to them and their education.
"When I came here, there was just four walls," Anderson recalled. "There was very little in terms of tools, and the tools that we had here were just really weird things. If you had a half-inch or a 9/16 bolt that you had to take off, you were in trouble. We had nothing that would take that off."
Today that shop resembles the service centers at some modern dealerships, with work bays, hydraulic lifts and computerized diagnostic machines.
Some of the students even get internships at Vista Lexus in Woodland Hills, where Landy and Weller were mentored to prepare for the regional automotive technology competition which they won as well as for the nationals.
"Early in the year when the students come in, I just drill them on electronics and electrical things because everything with the car is involved with electronics or the electrical," said Anderson.
"Unlike cars when we were growing up back in the ’60s and people were saying, `Look out, electronics is going to hit the automobile, and that’s where it’s all going to be at,’ that all came true.
"And I often ask my students, `Tell me something that’s not involved with electronics and the electrical.’"
In the two-day national competition, the team of Landy and Weller moved about work stations, diagnosing and repairing problems on cars that were rigged to malfunction in a number of ways within the allotted time, with points awarded on the level of difficulty.
It was a payoff, both youngsters said, for the classroom auto shop work they have done under Anderson. On a daily basis, students do major overhauls on suspensions, clutch and brake jobs and routine repairs.
Landy has even done a head gasket job on a 1983 BMW320i that he bought for $50 and then renovated with a new radiator, water pump and other repairs.
"It was a car that barely ran," said Landy. "If I took it to any BMW dealership, I’m sure they would have charged me an outrageous amount of money."
To read this article on the Daily News Los Angeles website, visit http://www.dailynews.com/news/ci_14910480.