When Luis Sanchez signed up for the autotech program at Dekaney High School three years ago, he was not expecting to learn so much from the program.
Although he had always enjoyed cars and working with his hands, he had not yet realized the program at Dekaney featured a fully-functional mechanic shop.
“I was surprised, because I didn’t think a whole shop would be available to us,” Sanchez, a senior, said. “I just didn’t realize it would be an actual shop. I thought it would be a normal classroom.”
Those initial expectations were not too far off from the reality of the program just a few years ago, before the 9th Grade Center at Dekaney High School was constructed. That facility changed the program dramatically, with its state-of-the-art mechanic shop.
“Our automotive center has two major bays. We focus on maintenance and repair,” David Almanzan, a teacher with the program said. “We focus on anything they would be doing in the industry when they graduate. Right now they’re seeing the exact same equipment and the exact same repairs and procedures that they would see in a dealership or anywhere else in the real world.”
The shop – and the revised curriculum that came as a result of having a working shop – encouraged a younger Sanchez.
“It’s been so much better with the shop,” he said. “I’ve always been a hands-on learner. I can’t just sit there and watch. I have to actually do it. From sitting at a desk, where I didn’t really put in a lot of effort, to being able to get out and work has helped me improve. I put in a lot of effort now.”
The previous setup, a typical classroom setting, was a major obstacle for the program and its instructors.
“The whole program is based on kinesthetic learning,” Almanzan said. “Being in a classroom, we were very limited as far as what the students were exposed to. Students were coming in here thinking they’d have a shop like we have now, but what they saw back then was a classroom setup with computers. They weren’t getting to go past the visuals they saw on video, and they were discouraged.”
Thankfully, that only lasted a short time.
The mechanic shop made its debut in the 2020-2021 school year, when it was completed along with the 9th Grade Center at Dekaney High School. Designed to house up to 900 students, the center – which was built under the district’s $330 million bond program approved by voters in 2016 – stands adjacent to the existing school off Imperial Valley Drive.
The 130,989-square-foot building includes a three-story classroom wing, with the autotech program housed in a one-story wing that also has spaces for auxiliary needs such as athletic spaces and fine arts facilities.
The autotech program grew almost immediately, and includes guidance for students to achieve an Automotive Service Excellence certification.
“The ASE certification gives them an advantage over somebody who doesn’t have that,” Almanzan said. “Employers look at that. They look at how serious they take their education and they see that they are focused. It gives our students an upper hand.”
Sanchez, who has achieved that certification, is already looking at his next step after graduating in May. He has applied to several vocational schools, and will soon hear if he’s been accepted.
“It’s nine months of hands-on work. Forty hours a week of shop work,” he said. “And six months in, they have a job fair where companies come in and look for students who are about to graduate. When they’re finished, they hire them on. I’m very excited for that opportunity.”
That path – to a successful career after graduation – is fairly typical for students in the program according to Almanzan. And that’s why the program has only continued to grow, as word spreads about the opportunities it can provide.
“There has been exponential growth. I would say year by year, but really it’s semester by semester,” Almanzan said. “We keep growing and growing, both in capacity and projects. We’re at the point where we didn’t ever think we’d have these opportunities.”