Students at Hunter High School in West Valley City, Utah, slowly filed into the automotive technology shop for a surprise presentation on Oct. 18, 2017. To their surprise, Tomorrow’s Tech Publisher Dean Martin and school staff revealed the true meaning of the visit with the tear of a banner: WIX Filters had named Hunter High School the 2017 School of the Year.
The third high school program to claim the honor, Hunter High School is the 10th overall recipient of the annual program that names the best technical training school in the country. WIX Filters and O’Reilly Auto Parts are title sponsors of the national award in conjunction with Tomorrow’s Tech.
“As a longtime supporter of technician education, it is encouraging to see schools like yours focused on student outcomes that benefit an entire industry,” said Jennifer Gibson, brand manager for WIX Filters, to the crowd.
“WIX supports the School of the Year program because it’s a great opportunity for technical schools or even high schools like yourself to gain exposure and recognition for their efforts training the next generation of technicians. When I look at you, today, what I see is you are the future of our industry, you are the next technicians to take over and to make this industry even greater than it is today.”
One of the larger high schools in Granite School District, Hunter High has a lot of support to make its auto technology program top notch. With a district committed financially to Career & Technical Education (CTE) programs, sole instructor Tyler Perkins is given the tools he needs to educate the techs of tomorrow.
“So Granite School District is the biggest school district in the state, and we have eight high schools. And, because of that we get a lot of district funding and state funding, national funding through Perkins grants, and also through the CTE budget,” Perkins said.
The shop is fitted with new and like-new equipment to mimic what students will encounter in the shop. Plus each student has access to computers with AllData and Identifix.
For hands-on repair, Perkins and the students mainly work on student and staff vehicles, asking that the driver pay for parts. For other repair jobs the school completes, Perkins has deals set up with NAPA and General Parts.
Perkins teaches a variety of classes for all skill levels, including Automotive 1: Introduction to Automotive; Automotive 2: Chassis Maintenance & Light Repair; Automotive 3: Engine Maintenance & Light Repair; and Automotive 1010: Concurrent Enrollment, which allows students to get dual credit. The program educates about 200 students, with 30 students to a class.
Classroom to shop time varies on the class and skill level, but the students also have access to a lab where they are taught electrical and essential parts and vehicle functions.
Perkins came to Hunter High from Universal Technical Institute (UTI) and incorporates UTI best practices into his program at Hunter High. These influences range from simple things like putting posters in frames to larger projects like adding a “Would You Hire This Person?” mirror in the front of the classroom doors. He’s also incorporated a Chevy S10 learning aid that shows everything from steering to brakes to differentials.
With the Chevy S10, students learn how to properly jack up the car, take it apart and learn where parts actually are on the car. Perkins takes it one step further with incorporating a GoPro into his curriculum. Bringing a TV monitor into the shop, he uses the GoPro to virtually take students inside the car.
Students also have access to tool carts with various tools and products that Perkins plans on fixing up with the School of the Year winnings.
Passion For Education
What really makes Hunter High stand out is its passion for continuous learning. Through the school’s auto club, the Wolverine Gear Heads, students can participate in SkillsUSA as well as Hot Rodders of Tomorrow. Hunter High School students won numerous SkillsUSA Utah Leadership & Skills Competition medals this year, and have a history of winning.
Perkins also recently added Hot Rodders of Tomorrow to the mix after the Ford/AAA Student Auto Skills competitions ended and left a void in competitions. Just last year, Utah didn’t even have a qualifying event. Perkins worked with Hot Rodders of Tomorrow to bring an event to Utah, helping the team become one of the first two Utah teams to qualify for the Dual National Championship at the SEMA Show. Hunter High’s team the “Hedman Hedders” ended up placing 16th at the competition, but the overall experience proved so great for the students that Perkins hopes to add a girls team next year. (Read more about Hunter High’s trip to SEMA from junior Kierra Miller, here.)
Preparing for competition isn’t a simple after-school program. The students and Perkins all sacrifice their own time to participate. Perkins and the Wolverine Gear Heads members who participate in Hot Rodders of Tomorrow come in at 5:30 a.m. to practice taking apart and putting back together an engine. Additionally, the club also hosted a Trunk or Treat event where they raised money for a local children’s hospital.
Perkins emphasizes that programs under the club help teach students the soft skills they’ll need for the job. “SkillsUSA is good for soft skills because they have some leadership training. Hot Rodders of Tomorrow is good for soft skills because it forces them to work as a team, communicate and strategize on how they’re going to do something faster. And then they can take all these experiences and all these skills, and then also the knowledge they learn about how to fix cars, and they can be successful when they move forward in their career in either the automotive or diesel world.”
This focus on soft skills is also a huge part of Hunter High’s philosophy on educating successful technicians.
“We have advisory board meetings, we’re NATEF certified and the soft skills are hugely emphasized by the employers that talk to us,” Perkins noted. “We actually work and build resumes…We talk about dressing professionally – make sure you look the part, act the part. I even go as far as tell my students how to shake people’s hands because that’s a first step in an interview.”
Training the techs of tomorrow is no small feat, but Hunter High’s hard work and passion shows, which is why they’ve been named the 2017 School of the Year.
“It feels overwhelming, it’s an awesome privilege to get [the award], and I’m super excited for my students,” said Perkins.
More About School of the Year
The School of the Year program is open to all NATEF-certified high schools and post-secondary schools with a subscription to Tomorrow’s Tech magazine. Of the 370 entries for this year’s contest, 86 were from different high schools, technical schools and colleges in four regions of the U.S. The top 20 schools were asked to submit a video highlighting their technical programs and judges selected four finalists, one from each region, from the video entries.
This year’s three runners-up:
• Suffolk County Community College, Selden, New York
• Elizabethtown Community and Technical College, Elizabethtown, Kentucky
• Southeast Community College, Milford, Nebraska.
Each runner-up will receive a professional automotive tool set and $250 gift card from O’Reilly Auto Parts.
Nominations for the 2018 School of the Year will open in February 2018.