Tomorrow’s Technician and B’laster are searching for automotive technology instructors who think outside of the toolbox with the first-ever “B’laster Instructor of the Year” program. Each month, we will share an automotive instructor’s story who is in the running to be named the B’laster Instructor of the Year winner in May 2019. Instructors can enter the B’laster Instructor of the Year program at TomorrowsTechnician.com/instructor-of-the-year.
Our third finalist shares how project builds make a difference in the classroom. Jay Abitz has been the Automotive and Collision Repair Instructor at Freedom High School since 2007, taking over for his father Bob Abitz who built the successful program over 35 years. In 2008, he founded the Freedom High School Auto Club, which serves the students as a positive after school activity. Abitz is involved in the SkillsUSA (VICA) Collision Repair program, and is a 2-time state champion. Additionally, he has been a member of the National Education Team for Collision Repair since 2007 and serves on the Collision Repair Advisory Committee for the Fox Valley Technical College. Abitz is a former Freedom High School graduate (2002) and furthered his education in collision repair at Fox Valley Technical College. He also earned a bachelor’s degree in technology education from the University of Wisconsin Stout and a master in education in instructional technology from Cardinal Stritch University.
Words by Jay Abitz
In our small town of Freedom, Wisconsin, we are proud of our school. A shining example of our school and community is the Freedom High School automotive program. Students of all backgrounds sign up to take a variety of classes from basic car care to advanced collision repair. Many students (boys and girls) also participate in our afterschool program, the Freedom High School Auto Club, which serves as an extension of our classroom and adds a little extra to what we do. Project Front Runner (@projectfrontrunner on Facebook and Instagram) was a recent highlight of our auto club activities when we built a 1985 Toyota 4Runner into a rock crusher. We took it to the 2017 SEMA Show and raffled it off to raise money for our program!
Projects like this have been at the forefront since I took over the automotive program from my dad in 2007. Cars, trucks and motorcycles ranging from 1948 to late model vehicles have been repaired, restored and customized by students in the auto program at Freedom High School. I was asked during the interview for my position how I was going to step out of my dad’s shadow (he is a legend and one of the best auto instructors of his generation). I simply replied that I was going to take us to the next level! What I meant by that was expanding upon basic service and repair skills and add restoration, custom work, fabrication, and our two SEMA builds really embody that vision. I had big shoes to fill, but even bigger goals to achieve.
This year, we are building a 1951 Chevy 5 window truck for SEMA 2018. This truck has a ton of replacement sheet metal fabricated by hand by students in my program. We used an old-school English wheel, bead roller and hand forming techniques to replace rusty parts of the floor, rockers and fenders. My students also shortened the vehicle into a short box and stuffed it onto an updated S10 frame for modern steering and suspension. As a rat rod vehicle, the truck will retain its original patina paint with custom painting and air brushing techniques to cover new sheet metal and blend in with old paint. The truck has a 350 engine and 350 transmission, as well as 4-wheel disc brakes. All fabrication, mechanical and paint and body was done in-house by Freedom High School students! We use B’laster for every rusty nut and bolt, citrus de-greaser for cleaning the frame, silicone spray for window track and regulators, and white lithium grease for all the latches. (Freedom High’s latest SEMA build was on display at the B’laster booth.)
We have built a lot of different cars in the last 10-12 years. We have done two full rotisserie restorations on an ‘80 and ‘81 Camaro. We also restored a one-of-a-kind, hand-built Mohs Ostentatienne Opera Sedan (google it) that resides in a museum.
My students have completed a lot of different engine modifications and swaps, custom paint and body work, and thousands of hours of work. We have even customized a few motorcycles along the way. This spring, we will be competing in a statewide high school motorcycle build-off sponsored by NEW Motorama, the largest indoor car show in Wisconsin. We will start with a ‘98 Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200, which will get lowered, fender bobbed, custom painted, and outfitted with a ton of aftermarket accessories!
My educational philosophy is simple, high school, as in life, is all about the experiences. You don’t remember what you learned on any given day in any class; what you do remember are the experiences! I don’t recall page 47 in a math book, but I do remember painting my buddy’s Camaro and competing (and winning) in the SkillsUSA collision repair contest. So many teachers think what they are doing in their class on any given day is so important, and it is, but it’s more about the experience than passing a test.
I want to focus on the big picture and provide students with life experience and this is the approach I take with my classes. I want my students to experience a variety of things from basic maintenance and repair to advanced fabrication and painting. What sets my program apart from others is that we do both mechanical repair and collision repair. We not only complete basic mechanical service, but also advanced learning by upgrading major mechanical parts and swapping frames, powertrains and suspension parts. On the body side, we not only complete basic collision repair, but also fabrication, custom paint and body, and complete restoration.
Our projects involve every aspect of building, repairing and customizing vehicles of all kinds. Most of my students are not going to end up working in the industry, but they will use the skills that I teach them somewhere down the line and they will remember this class for the rest of their lives (especially those who get to take a week-long fieldtrip to Vegas!)
I consider myself a life-long learner. I want to continue to hone my craft and advance my skills and knowledge every day. I not only want to improve as a teacher, but as a mechanic, body painter, fabricator and as a person. I wear a lot of hats and I want to improve each skill set.
I humbly admit I have a lot to learn. I am not an expert, I know a lot, but I have a lot to learn. That is one of the things that makes me a good teacher. I admit I don’t know it all and I am willing and eager to learn right along with my students! I surround myself with knowledgeable people who can help me and my students. When we encounter a problem we can’t solve, I phone a friend. I may call my dad, my friend Scott (local repair shop owner), Dave Byron (metal fabricator extraordinaire) or a variety of other experts who are just a phone call away. This network of great people gives my students not one teacher, but dozens, and I get to learn right beside them! For me, it’s like on-the-job training in five different jobs! Teaching at Freedom is the job I always wanted, it has given me the opportunity to share my passion for cars with my students and advance hot rodding, motorcycling and car building into the next generation.
Enter today for the B’laster Instructor of the Year program at TomorrowsTechnician.com/instructor-of-the-year.