Vail Valley high school auto students learning ‘How to life’ |

Vail Valley high school auto students learning ‘How to life’

Program focuses on diagnosing, solving problems

GYPSUM — Here’s what you really want students to learn.

  • How to diagnose a problem.
  • How to solve it.
  • How to get along with other people in a confined and busy space while you’re doing it.
  • How to be accountable.
  • How to be persistent.

“How to life,” said Jim Jones, who runs the auto shop program for Eagle County Schools and Colorado Mountain College.

“The program has so much value, even if they don’t go into it as a profession,” Jones said.

Students develop life-long skills in mechanical systems, electrical systems … work systems, ethics systems and life systems, Jones said.

“It’s about life, hands-on troubleshooting and problem-solving. That’s what we’re teaching. They do the work, they make mistakes, and they do it right,” Jones said.

30 years spinning wrenches

The workspace for students is a professional five-bay shop with everything an aspiring motorhead could want. It’s spacious, but there is no room for fooling around.

“I’m very direct. They come here and work. We teach it like it’s a job,” Jones said.

Jones has been spinning wrenches in the valley for 30 years. He graduated from Colorado Mountain College in 1991 and is now a CMC teacher.

“It’s a circle,” he says smiling.

He worked for Vail Resorts, the town of Avon, partnered in a business and got out to take on the auto program. He and his wife, Stacy Jones, have two kids.

In this iteration, the program is in its third year. Both he and the program started in a building behind Eagle Valley High School. The program was around before Jones. Jay Taylor ran it for several years.

When Eagle County voters raised their own taxes to build and refurbish buildings up and down the valley, that Eagle Valley High School building was scraped and the program moved to the former Castle Peak Ford and Integra Auto site along U.S. Highway 6 between Eagle and Gypsum, just down the road from Red Canyon High School’s west campus.

The school district put its bus barn on one side. On the other is Jones’ auto shop program.

Design your own lab

While he was teaching rooms full of wannabe Wood Brothers (of old school NASCAR fame), Jones was also tabbed to redesign the program in the Eagle Valley High School building that they would soon be leaving. And while he was at it, could he please help redesign the auto shop lab the school district bought?

So, Jones rolled out of bed at 4 a.m. most mornings to meet with Haselden Construction’s folks to design the new facility. Then he’d teach all day.

He added a few personal touches. The stereo speakers are spread around the shop. The sound is great and the volume is low so you can talk to each other. The music is metal. Some things are a democracy and some are a benevolent monarchy. Jones likes metal music, and he’s the benevolent monarch.

Students have to find their own way to the auto shop class. Sometimes freshmen are left to scrounge for a ride.

“That makes it a little inconvenient, but the students here are more serious,” Jones said.

Since most of the students are sophomores, juniors and seniors, he broke the program into six sessions — two semester-long sessions per year for three years: brakes, steering and suspension, electricity, HVAC, engines and transmissions.

Students spend most Mondays in the classroom — Laptop Monday the students call it. They study tutorials, step-by-step instruction and anything else they might need to know. The next four days they spend in the lab, applying what they’ve learned. For the edugeeks among us, that sort of hand-on lesson is called “kinesthetic learning.” It drives those lessons deep into their long-term memory.

“It holds their interest. It helps them learn what they need to do,” Jones said.

If students pay attention and add some independent study time, and most do, they can pass their professional certification exams before the summer after high graduation gives away to fall.

Lucky man

Like his students, Jones says he’s lucky. He has high praise for CMC’s Dr. Kathryn Regjo, Mark Brennan, Dave Gifford, school district COO Sandy Mutchler, EVHS Principal Greg Doan … his list is long the way a grateful Academy Award winner’s list is long, insisting there are too many people to thank and then thanking most of them.

His students work internships and apprenticeships while attending class. Novus Glass shows them the ropes in the glass business. Caterpillar of Colorado is lending a hand, as are a couple of local landscaping companies.

Even when they’re not in class, they’re in Jones’ shop working on anything with moving parts.

“The kids hang out here. They don’t want to leave,” Jones said.

As if on cue, four young men stroll in as Jones is walking out, on his way to pick up his kids.

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