LA JOYA–Many people seem to think Leslie Hernandez, a senior at Juarez-Lincoln High School, belongs in the cosmetology department.
The petite girl, with long dark hair framing her delicate, fair skin, was wearing a thick pink scarf around her neck and her eyelashes were made up dramatically long as she emphasized that she didn’t even know the cosmetology teacher’s name.
Meanwhile, classmate Yordy Silva has always liked working with his hands. He dismissed any ideas of becoming an attorney or doctor, saying it wasn’t for him.
“Everybody has their own path,” Silva said. “If you like working with wood, there’s construction there, but cars is my thing.”
The two are president (Silva) and vice president (Hernandez) of the Juarez-Lincoln Auto Tech Club, which is hosting an automotive showcase Saturday, Nov. 22. It’s the first time the group has taken on a project so big, and Silva, quite frankly, was skeptical at first they’d be able to pull it off. The showcase is the brainchild of Auto Tech teacher Jesus A. Garza, who said many students at the school are told all the things they can’t do and rarely shown what they can accomplish.
“Students here in this school have heart,” Garza said. “They have passion for whatever they do. You’ve just got to find what makes them happy. And a lot of these students are in tough positions to go over what other people, adults around them, tell them, ‘You’re not going to be successful.’ They still do it.”
Garza has wanted to host a car show even before becoming a teacher, and he never had a reason to do it. But a large increase in students enrolled in auto tech this year not only gave him the manpower to get the job done, but also the cause.
In previous years, Garza said his biggest class had 15 students in it, which was average for an auto tech class. But this year, his smallest class has 25 students, and he’s seen the same increase in construction and welding.
“It’s something different from flipping burgers,” Garza said. “Flipping burgers won’t even get you through high school. You are not going to go through college with minimum wage, with you having to pay for it.”
The money raised through the event will go toward the cost for students to take tests to be certified automotive technicians as well as trips to places like UTI to learn more about the programs offered at the college.
Students are doing all the work on the car show, Garza, said. Before he asked his advanced students if they thought they could do it, he told them to go home over the weekend and research what it takes to put on a car show. That Monday when they returned, the group agreed to do something small to practice hosting an event.
However, interest in the showcase has grown as different groups around the school have volunteered to help. Garza said the welding group would sell fajitas and students in cheerleading, HOSA, audio-video and engineering all will be helping. Nearly 50 vehicles had been preregistered for the show as of Monday afternoon, and Garza anticipated selling out the school’s parking lot, which will hold 78 vehicles, and spilling over onto the grassy adjacent area.
“The kids were telling me, ‘Sir, this is our practice show,’” Garza said. “Well, it was going to be our practice show.”
Juarez-Lincoln Auto Tech Club Automotive Showcase When: Registration from 9-11 a.m., Judging from noon-2 p.m., Awards at 2:30 p.m. Where Juarez-Lincoln High School, 7801 Mile 7. Cost: $15 ($10 bikes) for pre-registered vehicles and $20 to register the day of the event. Contact: [email protected] or (956) 323-2850 ext. 7021
A future in auto tech
Silva was walking past the row of rooms that make up Career and Technology Education at Juarez-Lincoln during an open house his freshmen year when he saw a really nice truck parked inside a garage. He wanted to know more, and Silva ending up enrolling in auto tech his sophomore year.
Coming into auto tech, Silva said he had some experience with cars. He has uncles who are mechanics and he’s done small jobs like changing the oil in his dad’s truck. But in auto tech, he’s gotten to trade an engine out of classic Corvette and repair brake rollers.
But learning hasn’t been easy, Silva said, especially with Garza as a teacher. He said he makes the students research problems before he provides a solution because that’s the way his father taught him.
“Sometimes, I used to think it was harsh,” Garza said. “Why don’t you just tell me what I need to do, and I’ll get it done? I broke a lot of tools. I broke a lot of parts. I had bruises, but it’s recorded in my brain, and that’s the same way I like to teach these guys that are really passionate about it.”
Learning how to diagnose a problem is the difference between an auto technician and someone who just replaces parts, Garza said.
Over the past three years, Silva remembered having the same frustration Garza once had with his father. He and his classmates have struggled together, trying to figure out a solution to a problem, and when they found it, Silva said he’d ask Garza why he didn’t tell them it was simple instead of “letting me break my head trying to figure it out.”
“At first you’re scared to do something wrong and you’ll break something and he’s going to get mad, but he’s like, ‘No, no. You guys do what you need to do,’” Silva said, adding that he’s broken a socket and wrench or two along the way. “It doesn’t matter if it breaks. That’s how you learn, by breaking things and putting them back together.”
But his time in the auto tech program has been good for him, Silva said while talking about restoring a ’55 Chevy truck, which will be the mascot for auto tech at Juarez-Lincoln when it’s complete. The truck was rusted out, missing an engine and filled with trees when the school first got it. Silva’s class was the one that started work on it, though he won’t be there when it’s complete.
So far, the crew has put on a new chassis, put in air bags and a sun roof (the top of the truck was rusted out) and installed an engine. Silva remembered the day they placed the 5.3L engine on a stand, attached it to the electrical components and a fuel pump and started it with a button.
“So we actually turned on an engine outside a car,” Silva said. “That’s something, like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve always wanted to do that.’”
Garza said the shop consists of about 95 percent of what’s in real world shops. He once worked as a technician for a dealership and in La Joya ISD’s maintenance department, and he goes out on his own time to see what new technology and developments are being put to use.
Silva said even his mechanic uncles are impressed with what he’s learned through the program. Silva’s even learned how to use a computer to align a vehicle, something he said one of his uncles doesn’t even know how to do.
“There’s good pay in that,” he said.
Silva hopes to attend either the Universal Technical Institute of Texas in Houston or Texas State Technical College in the Valley to earn professional certification as an auto technician.
Hernandez transferred to Juarez-Lincoln last year, and enrolled in auto tech the next semester. At the time, the president of the club was Vivianna Garcia, also a girl. Hernandez saw what Garcia and other leaders in the program were doing and knew that’s what she wanted to do.
Garcia is now a student studying in the diesel program at UTI and stays in contact with Hernandez while working in the warehouse in Toyota to support herself while she goes to school.
Garza said the two girls are similar in their ambition and desire to learn. He said a lot of the female students stay in the office, learning the management and paperwork end of the garage, but Garcia and Hernandez wanted to do what the boys were doing over in the shop.
“My parents or friends are not always going to be there in an emergency situation,” Hernandez said. “Maybe I get stranded in a desert or something, I don’t know, I’m thinking of the worst stuff. I want to be prepared.”
She was challenged when she first entered auto tech because others questioned her knowledge of cars. Since then, Hernandez has learned to change a tire and the oil in a vehicle. She’s even changed the oil on the car for her mom, who Hernandez said was anxious about her daughter working on the vehicle.
“You don’t trust your own daughter?” Hernandez joked.
Now Hernandez is thinking she’s either going to follow in Garcia’s footsteps or she’s going to study to be a physical therapist. She’s not sure yet. The pay is really good for auto technicians, she said, but it’s hard work.
Before entering auto tech, Hernandez said she wanted to go into law enforcement. She likes the idea of challenging male-female stereotypes, and said she’s been accused of being a tomboy.
“But I don’t want to be depending on a man because usually it’s seen like that. Ladies depend on guys, and it shouldn’t be like that,” Hernandez said. “Usually, ladies are in the office, and now I’m actually out in the shop, and I’m learning.”
Garza said he’s had to prove not only to students, but to administration and adults that auto tech can be for everyone. It doesn’t always have to involve working on the engines, he said. There’s management and secretarial work that also needs to get done in a shop for those who don’t want to get their hands dirty.
He said he lets the students tell him what they want to learn.
“Why am I going to teach you how to change a tire if you don’t want to? If you want to learn how to change the oil, I’ll show you,” he said. “Why set them up for failure? The guys that really want to go into being a technician, and they’re passionate about it, I’ll help them, even on my own time.”
A few weeks ago, when Hernandez saw the boys in the shop practicing for the Skills USA competition, she told Garza she, too, wanted to compete. He told her she was signed up for tool identification, but she wanted to in the same competition as the guys – the service competition, which involved taking measurements of brakes and running diagnostic codes.
She later reveled in doing a practice run after the boys and finding that her number was more accurate than theirs.
“We ladies, we females, we can do the same as men,” Hernandez said.