December 8, 2023

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St. Vrain Valley School District pilots Toyota automotive training program

St. Vrain Valley automotive students will have a new training certificate option as the district’s Career Elevation and Technology Center becomes a pilot site for a Toyota training program.

Toyota, which offers both high school and college training programs, is piloting a community college level program at three high schools nationwide, including Longmont’s Career Elevation and Technology Center.

“It’s giving students the opportunity to have that technical training,” said automotive teacher Brain Smallwood. “They can start working at a higher pay level. We’ve really been trying to grow the opportunities for students.”

From left, automotive instructor Brian Smallwood works with Field Manager for Technician Development at Toyota Motors North America Winston Morgan during a training session at the St. Vrain Valley School District Career Elevation and Technology Center in Longmont on Thursday. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)

The Technical Education College Support, or TECS, Elite program provides participating schools with two cars, engines, diagnostic tools, curriculum and two days of teacher training. Students who complete the program earn Toyota and Lexus technician training certifications. The program also includes opportunities for job shadowing and internships at local dealerships.

Automotive teacher Josh Oliver, who went through an automotive program when he was in high school, said he would have benefited from internship and apprenticeship options.

“It’s good for our program to have a connection with industry,” Oliver said. “It’s an opportunity for us to better educate these guys on what they’re going to see in the real world.”

Three Toyota employees worked with Oliver and Smallwood on Wednesday and Thursday, going over the curriculum and tools.

“We really want to spark interest early and show the career path,” said Scott Rill, a Toyota regional field technical specialist.

About 140 students are enrolled in St. Vrain’s automotive classes. The three-year program starts with maintenance and light repair, which is where students will learn to use the Toyota diagnostic tools. Next school year, the plan is to add a business management and leadership class in partnership with Front Community College.

Students who complete all three years earn up to 26 college credits and multiple certificates.

Aldo Lopez, a junior at Niwot High, said he’s wanted to take automotive classes since middle school because of his interest in cars. Plus, he said, it’s a job good option because, “The demand for cars is always going to be there.” He’s considering becoming a mechanic or going on to study mechanical engineering.

Given the increasing complexity of car systems, he added, he prefers taking classes instead of learning by tinkering.

“I didn’t know much about the electronics side,” he said. “I like having a teacher as a mentor to guide you. They know what they’re doing.”

Classmate Jonathan Rico, a junior at Skyline High, said he likes the hands-on work in the class and “just messing around with cars.”

“I want to hopefully open my own car shop,” he said. “That’s the goal.”