Sterling Aviation HS preparing students for promising automotive careers

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Sterling Aviation High School is preparing its students for success beyond high school through a unique program that couples classroom instruction and real-world automotive work experience.

In partnership with HISD’s Facilities Services and Fleet Operations, students from Sterling’s Automotive Technology program spend a full school year working alongside HISD employees, gaining valuable industry experience and becoming equipped to successfully enter the workforce upon graduation.

Students help conduct routine maintenance on HISD fleet vehicles, such as performing oil changes and repairing brakes and air conditioners — skills that acclimate them to the different phases of automotive repair.

The program is a four-year commitment, beginning with a sequence of required courses in the freshman and sophomore years. By junior year, students are eligible for the internship after a panel of industry-experienced instructors review and recommend candidates.

“I’ve been learning a lot and I like it. I really like the hands-on stuff because I just learn better that way,” said Sterling senior Luis Leyva, who is in his second year of the program. “This will give me a chance to get a job right out of high school if I want. Everybody drives, so it’s a good skill to know. You can work on your own car and save money.”

HISD Fleet Services Manager Gary Daigle ensures that students receive a rich experience with exposure to different aspects of the job. He partners students with seasoned mechanic technicians who teach students both hard and soft skills, such as coming to work on time, dressing properly for work, and how to be a service professional.

“I’m excited to see these kids getting actual experience at the high school level that will give them a leg up on competition,” Daigle said.

Sterling’s Automotive Technology Career and Technical Education instructor John Chilo works with Daigle to coordinate the program.

Chilo proposed and implemented the program five years ago. Since its inception, he has been working with students to see them through the entire process, which includes developing a resume and going through mock interviews.

At the end of the program, students graduate with eight industry certifications, a resume with valid work experience, interview skills, and an endorsement on their diploma that indicates they are highly qualified for the workforce.

“We all know that practical experience is best,” Sterling Principal Sabrina Cuby-King said. “I feel that quality internships like this are essential to developing key skills that you can’t get in a classroom.”

The biggest benefit, Chilo said, is seeing the students’ accomplishments as they advance through the program from freshman to senior.

“Before, they might not have had any direction in where they wanted to go,” Chilo said. “But we help guide them.”