My Turn: Auto shop set me on my path

Posted: Wednesday, February 27, 2008

This is in response to the "Auto tech classes at JDHS may end" article on Feb. 22.

I was saddened to see that the auto shop program at Juneau-Douglas High School might soon come to an end.

I have always told many people that I wouldn't have made it without the "Auto Shop." There was a time in school when my family had left town my junior year, and I refused to move with them. There I was, 17, in school, broke and living in a 1979 Chevrolet Van, "three on the tree by the way."

I had two options. Either quit school and get a job, or work and go to school. It was at this point in my life that I made the first most important decision possible. I heavily pursued work at Les Schwab tire center. I learned how to change tires at school, and the next day I was swapping snow tires at work.

School during the day, work at night. I could have just as easily said to hell with school, but what I was learning in class made me more valuable at work. In other words, the more I learned the more I made. "Earn while you learn." This was my salvation from failure. I made enough to pay rent, feed the van with fuel and take Chuck Craig's diesel classes during fifth period. It wasn't easy.

When school was over, I stayed at Les Schwab for 6 months, but I needed a bigger challenge. I fought my way through many other applicants, and got a good, high-paying job at Greens Creek Mining Company. I was 18 years old and making more than the teachers at JDHS could hope for (no offense). That lasted for a couple of years, but that is all history.

The importance of this simple story is more complex than a well-educated Superintendent like Peggy Cowan could ever dream to comprehend. The auto program saved my life, started my career, and gave me the feeling of success that every young person absolutely needs to pursue - life.

Now I feel that I have come quite far for a 25-year-old man. I'm married, a father of two; I own two successful businesses, three houses; I am a journeyman heavy equipment operator with local 302 and provide a single income for my family.

When young people are at that turning point, halfway between a child and an adult, it is at that time, at some point, they need to feel success. This feeling boosts your ambition and sets you on your path.

For me, the success was channeled via my mechanical aptitude, as it is for many others. If the school system fails to provide the students with the kinesthetic learning styles like auto shop, many more will fill the drop-out list - but without the mechanical skills needed to succeed.

By the way, I never even made it back for my senior year. I was a dropout.

• Haynes L. Tormey is a Juneau resident and former Juneau-Douglas High School automotive student.

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