HCISD students refurbish vintage fire truck

A sense of accomplishment cut through the chill fall air last week when Hays High educator Paul Anderlitch revved up the engine of a vintage 1952 GMC fire truck.

Once the engine was primed and ready, students in Anderlitch’s automotive technology class smiled and hopped on the back of the truck, laughing as the strong wind blew in their faces as they briefly cruised the campus.

The moment was the culmination of months of hard work put in by Anderlitch’s students, who helped get the vintage vehicle running and operational. 

The truck was operated by the Kyle Fire Department before it was sold to a private buyer in Austin. It fell in the hands of the school district after the owner couldn’t get the vehicle to start, prompting a year-long project to get the shiny red machine running again.

The feat was all part of the success of Hays CISD’s Careers & Technical Education (CTE) programs, an effort to engage students through project-based learning.

The students, under the guidance of Anderlitch, repaired oil leaks, faulty brakes, pulley systems, wiring, alternator and manual transmission and other smaller repairs. Once the project was complete, the engine roared for the first time in over a decade.

“I’m really proud of the students in the class because they really did a lot of the work themselves,” Alderlitch said. “These are 16 and 17-year-olds getting their hands dirty and learning with hands-on experience, just like in the real world.”

But for the educators at HCISD, the project represents a learning model school districts across the country are beginning to implement. Project-based learning is centered around giving students hands-on experience in a particular field.

Conventional classroom settings, where students are sitting in desks, do not typically foster an environment of collaboration and creativity. For Suzi Mitchell, HCISD CTE director, CTE courses are heavily underutilized and can offer a variety of certifications for students to begin working in high demand jobs once they graduate.

“Our automotive technology students can become Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certified, which is a nationally recognized certification,” Mitchell said. “These students enjoy CTE courses because they are hands-on and engaging. You get your hands dirty, but you learn.”

While the fire truck will no longer be used for emergency purposes, Anderlitch said the truck will probably be used during parades and special celebrations in the city.

Mitchell said the district is currently working on building auto technology facilities at Lehman High, in order to provide the same CTE program to those students. The facilities were approved by voters as part of the 2017 bond.

Johnson High will have an auto tech program when it opens in 2019.

“We’ve got to keep these programs alive and thriving,” Mitchell said. “Not every student will go to college, so we are opening opportunities for them to be successful after they graduate.”

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