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Posted: February 20, 2024

'He doesn't just teach us from the book'

Eldorado High’s automotive program thriving as APS works to prepare all graduating seniors for the career of their choice.

Eldorado High's automotive team

Eldorado High's automotive team

Lukas Maerki loves cars and had already been working on small engines.

So when it came time to choose an elective as an underclassman at Eldorado High School, the automotive program was a no-brainer. First-year students learn “crucially important things,” like oil changes, checking fluids, brake replacement, coolant tests, properly lifting a car, and so much more, Maerki said.

Three years into Eldorado’s automotive program, he’s learning about air conditioning, drive lines, power trains, braking systems, sensors, and scanning a car for error codes.

“He doesn’t just teach us from the book, he actually shows us the proper way of doing it as well,” Maerki said of teacher Stacey Adams. “He gives us the real hands-on experience that you would need when working on your or someone else’s car. That’s why I love this program. We don’t just learn the theory, but we actually get to see how to do it.”

Now, nearing the end of his senior year, Maerki wants to pursue a career in automotive, a field that would afford him a decent living and job security. But even if he goes with his second option, becoming a police officer, the time he has spent in the automotive program has taught him valuable skills he’ll continue to use.

Renewed focus on career connected learning at APS

As APS pushes to improve outcomes for all its students, one of the key areas it’s focusing on is helping students understand what they might want to do after graduation and what experiences they need to achieve that via postsecondary education, whether that be through a certification, apprenticeship, associates degree or university degree.  

Toward that end, more than 120 principals, teachers, community leaders, and tradespeople came together at Berna Facio Professional Development Complex last week to evaluate the district’s current Career Technical Education offerings and assess how APS could push itself to be even better.

Matthew Suarez, a representative with the Southwest Mountain States Regional Council of Carpenters, said devoting a day to help APS build its CTE programs was time well spent.

“We need a whole generation of workers to be leaders on job sites,” Suarez said, noting that carpentry, plumbing, electrical, and the other trades offer great pay and career opportunities for APS students.

Among the topics the group covered were whether programs offered at APS high schools are aligned with future workforce needs and strategies for finding – and keeping – CTE teachers.

“CTE today is not your grandparents’ CTE,” facilitator Chuck Boyd, from the Southern Regional Education Board, told attendees. “CTE has changed tremendously and we have to guard that. We have to make sure that we have access, we have equity for every kid that comes through, regardless of their ability level, and try to meet that. And I know that’s a challenge you live every day.”

Measuring up

As for Maerki and his classmates, they feel the skills they’re learning in Eldorado’s automotive program stack up favorably against what students in other high schools are picking up. And they have proof.

Maerki and three of his classmates recently competed against dozens of students in the 20th annual High School Automotive Service Technology Invitational Competition in Hobbs. He, Brom Stewart, Logan Lake, and Gabriel Velasquez brought home a second-place team finish for Eldorado. Stewart and Maerki also finished fourth and eighth, respectively, in the individual competition. The students earned tools for their top-ten finish.

"Earning a second-place team finish felt very rewarding, especially because our team was the smallest," said Stewart, a sophomore who also plans to pursue a career in the automotive industry. "Ranking fourth place individually felt very good."

He walked away from the competition with about $600 worth of hand tools.

Twenty-one high schools and 90 students took part in the competition, which was hosted by New Mexico Junior College on Feb. 8.

“When my name got called I was super excited because we went in there with all of the Texas schools thinking that we were not going to win anything because they had the money advantage,” Maerki said. “Turns out we had two out of the four of us win prizes. It feels amazing to have gotten second overall and personally ranking in the top eight.”