Sharon Sullivan

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October 18, 2012
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Mesa County high school students learn to fix engines of every kind

Customers often drop off a box of disassembled parts of various tools and ask, "Can you fix this?," at the Sport Vehicle Repair class taught by Jim Pittsenbarger at Mesa County Valley School District 51's Career Center.

Pittsenbarger oversees the shop where students fix not only four-wheelers, but also lawn mowers, chain saws, motorcycles, weed eaters, boats and other small engines.

Sometimes students work on their own items, like Dustin Jenning, who rebuilt his shiny, green motorcycle at the shop.

High school students from across the valley in grades 10th-12th, including homeschoolers, are learning employable skills during the one-hour and 50-minute sessions held Monday through Friday.

Some students, hoping for a career in automobile mechanics or related fields, attend all three years, progressively learning mechanical skills.

The class is an elective for students where they can earn 1.5 credits per semester: a half credit in math, a half credit in science, and a half credit as an elective.

Math and science are embedded in the curriculum constantly, Pittsenbarger said.

Wednesday, Daniel Donner, a 16-year old second-year student, finished fixing a leaky carburetor on a customer's four-wheeler. He'd repaired another four-wheeler for the same customer two weeks ago.

"I get a lot from (the class)," Donner said. "I learn a lot, that's for sure."

Students learn shop safety and practices, how to use tools, engine fundamentals, electrical systems, industrial research and how to fix manual transmissions and brakes.

"They all want to be in the shop, but have to do classroom work well first," Pittsenbarger said.

Donner prefers the engine repair class to his classes at Palisade High School.

"I like motors, anything to do with wheels," Donner said. "I do pretty good in here."

Pittsenbarger moves around the shop asking questions, inspecting work and assisting students - some working on practice projects while others repair customers' items.

Anyone can hire the shop's services - the price will be good, although you can't be in a hurry, Pittsenbarger said.

"It's a learning institution," he said.

Pittsenbarger likes to find internships for his second- and third-year students whenever possible. Donner will start an internship at an automotive shop on Monday. When students find work in a commercial shop, they report back to class one day a week to share with their peers what they're learning, Pittsenbarger said.

Advisory committee members, such as Joe Hanna, who owns the engine shop, ASF Machine, occasionally attend class to share expertise with students.

Other students working on projects Wednesday, included Josh Gale who was repairing a broken generator that a community member had donated for students to try and fix, and then sell. Randy Pacheco, 16, of R-5 High School, was repairing batteries on a golf cart.

Nate Casper of Grand Junction High School enrolled in the course after he told his high school counselor he wanted to be a mechanic.

"I like it. I enjoy it," Casper said. "It's more like a job here, than school."

In the spring, students also learn about applying for jobs, interviewing and writing resumes.

The course also offers an opportunity to achieve through IntelliTec College a certification in using Snap-On tools.

"My whole goal every day is I want them to leave having accomplished or learned something," Pittsenbarger said.

The Sport Vehicle Repair class can be reached at 970-254-6000.

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The Post Independent Updated Oct 18, 2012 04:22PM Published Oct 18, 2012 04:18PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.