When Dan Cox returned to his alma mater at Proviso East High School in 2002 to teach auto shop, the program had been lying dormant for the last 20 years.
He said that he was determined to change that.
"I had a vision for this program because of what it was in the ‘70s,"said Mr. Cox, a 1975 Proviso East graduate.
In the 10 years since his return, the automotive program at the school has blossomed from 80 students enrolled to around 300 this year at both Proviso East and Proviso West. The instructors – Mr. Cox, Carl Fedele and Frank Bexes – are all master certified by the National Institute for Auto Service Excellence (ASE). The auto shop at Proviso East, tucked away behind the football field off Madison Street, is fully equipped and operational for students to handle auto repairs ranging from wheel balancing to rebuilding engines.
"We’re probably one of the best equipped programs in the state of Illinois," Mr. Cox said, crediting Ed Moyer, executive director of assessment and planning for District 209, and Margaret Manoni, secretary for assessment and planning, with helping to get the equipment.
The equipment and the training, especially for the advanced students, means the classes can provide repair services for others. Many of the vehicles in the shop on any given day come from teachers in District 209 as well as the city of Maywood. The students do the repair work free, with the teachers and other customers paying for the parts.
"They do just about everything," Mr. Fedele said. "They diagnose just about any problem they have. We take care of a lot of cars."
The auto shop classes, which consist of explorer technology and introductory and advanced classes, has had their successes.
Many of the students, after graduating from high school, move on to the automotive programs at Triton College and Lincoln Tech. Last year, four graduates began attending Universal Technical Institute (UTI), a nationwide automotive training school with a campus in Glendale Heights, with another six expected to attend after this school year. This was a first for the Proviso program, according to Mr. Fedele, who also teaches a similar program at Proviso West High School and Triton College. In addition, area auto repair shops such as NTB and Pep Boys hire many of the students after they complete the program.
"They’re going somewhere," Mr. Fedele said. "They’re getting ready to work in the field."
Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart, superintendent of District 209, said that career and technical education programs such as the automotive courses are beneficial for students who are trying to determine what they will do after graduating from high school.
"Students need to know what options are out there to consider," she said. "With our emphasis on college and career readiness, this program may be a model of more such programs to come."
Students in the classes said they are appreciative of the opportunities.
Marcus Givens, 15 and a Proviso East sophomore, said he likes the class because it is "hands-on."
"We learn how to work on cars," he said as he worked on rebuilding an engine. "You learn about different parts, components."
Fellow sophomore Quintin Butcher, 16, said the class was enjoyable.
"It’s fun," he said. "It’s a good career path."