Working on cars is cool at Myers Park High, where the automotive program has been expanded to meet demand and female students are finding they have a way with wheels.
The program has flourished under the direction of Kristina Carlevatti, one of a handful of female automotive teachers and the only one in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. A certified K-12 technical education teacher, she is in her sixth year at Myers Park.
"It's been really amazing how we've grown and transformed," Carlevatti said. "When I started, I might have five or six students in class, then we went to a waiting list of about 300."
Carlevatti was the school's only automotive teacher until this semester when Jeffrey Haas was hired to ease the class demand. Haas has an industry background, which is another plus for the program, said Principal Mark Bosco.
"This has been a long time coming," Bosco said. "We've expanded the program and we're able to do more than we were before."
Districtwide, CMS offers up to 10 Automotive Service Excellence industry certifications. They are certified by the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation and range from maintenance and light repair to electrical/electronic systems and brakes. Other high schools offering the automotive program are North Mecklenburg, Harding University, East Mecklenburg, Providence and South Mecklenburg, and Independence will add it in the fall.
Some students take automotive classes because cars are their hobby or they want to learn how to repair and maintain their own vehicles. But the need for technical skills in this area has increased and completion of the full automotive program can put a student on the road to competitive employment.
"There is a desperate need for automotive technicians," said Mark Wells, automotive Career and Technical Education coordinator. "Especially with newer cars, a lot of the work is computerized. You have to be very tech-savvy."
Students can enter the program as freshmen or sophomores and hands-on instruction begins in the introductory course. As a junior or senior, they can take courses toward an associate's degree at Central Piedmont Community College, paid for by the district. They also can get college credit for CTE courses to put toward a four-year degree at some colleges.
Females are still underrepresented in automotive enrollment but with Haas on board at Myers Park, Carlevatti was able to offer a girls-only introductory course this semester. She said many female students shy away from automotive because they think male students have an edge but knowing your vehicle is an important part of being able to take care of yourself.
Of the 16 students in the inaugural class, some already see a future in automotive work.
"I took the class because it was all girls but I didn't know what my passion was before," said senior Miley Chavez. "I love getting my hands dirty and would really love to own my own business."
Junior Evelyn Harris said she has always loved working on cars, something she learned from her mother. She said the work keeps her busy, she loves the atmosphere and she wants to prove that car repair isn't just for men.
"I don't want to hear, 'You can't do this, you're a girl,'" Evelyn said. "I actually want to go to college for this and I want to earn every certification."
Carlevatti said she grew up in a family focused on trades and education in Rochester, N.Y. Her father is a retired school superintendent and her parents also owned a construction business where her mother was involved and hands-on work was second nature.
"I was always around tools so I was never scared of them," Carlevatti said, "and with my mom as a role model, I was never afraid to be on a job site."
Carlevatti wants her students – male and female – to have confidence in their work and has pushed to have classes mirror the real world as much as possible. This school year, Myers Park became the only standalone high school in the state to become a certified inspection station and the program offers inspections and repair services to the school community, as well as the public.
The students also have an auto club, a race team and they tackle anything that's hands-on. Carlevatti said they have even built sets for the drama department and one of her advanced classes worked with an Exceptional Children class to build a boat, which went down the rapids.
Because of the machinery and hands-on work, Carlevatti emphasizes that students must work together, trust each other and be reliable.
"We foster a family atmosphere here," she said. "It's a place for them to thrive."
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