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Lou Leto, RSVP member
Lou Leto

By Lou Leto, for the San Clemente Times

A common inquiry that we often ask of high school students, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” might seem unfair if we have not exposed them to experiences or choice options. Warren Caesar, the instructor responsible for the San Clemente High School Auto Academy, and his assistant, Janice Schroeder, are committed to providing those options, and they are making a difference. It’s much more than just teaching vocational education—it exposes students to classroom learning techniques via hands-on activities in a well-equipped shop.

This is not the high school auto shop classes of 50-plus years ago their grandfathers might remember. While few of today’s schools even offer such electives, San Clemente is fortunate to continue to have a facility. Their Auto Academy is a neat and organized arena with modern computer-controlled vehicles and free-standing assemblies to dissect and repair. Students learn to evaluate, diagnose and repair automobiles. They can take tests to attain ASE certifications, which are valuable professionally recognized confirmations that make them employable at auto dealerships or service shops. Whether they use this gained knowledge and experience to seek immediate employment upon graduation in a dealership or shop, or use their talents and skills to take a better paying job to pay for college classes (to prevent or lower student loans), or just take away valuable information to better determine what might be happening to their own personal vehicle when dealing with a service advisor in the future, it’s all practical, useful, and perhaps cost-saving knowledge.

Abel Ibarra, a senior Pro Compact drag racing star, signs autographs to San Clemente High School Students. Photo: Lou Leto
Abel Ibarra, a senior Pro Compact drag racing star, signs autographs to San Clemente High School Students. Photo: Lou Leto

Mr. Caesar taps his into his own knowledge base as a former multi-bay repair shop owner. He also utilizes his advisory committee, consisting of local independent shop owners, representative of major automobile manufacturers, members of Capistrano Unified School District, a member of the Regional Opportunity Program, and other experienced professionals that can offer insight and guidance to benefit the students both immediately and after graduating.

Sophomores, juniors and seniors also learn about the merits of organizational structure, discipline, teamwork, identifying and solving complex problems, interpreting and communicating technical and mechanical data, and on-time scheduling.

Mr. Caesar took students on a field trip to a professional auto race in Pomona. During this “meet the industry” day, the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) organized an activity where students were free to gain exposure to future professional employment opportunities. Students listened to brief narratives from potential future employers, reviewed various booths staffed with representatives from advanced technical schools, and met young professional racing champions that students identify with, before wandering through the areas where teams were preparing race cars.

The exposure to the environment of professional drag racing at this venue compresses many of the automotive practices, with the success or failure of a team measured by the results on the racetrack within five to 12 seconds.

It’s more than taking 84 San Clemente kids to a professionally sanctioned drag race. Mr. Caesar and the Auto Academy program help students with their decisions for future career possibilities.

Early in 2017, the Auto Academy will again host a “meet the industry” night. Parents, interested San Clemente citizens and future employers will all be able to see what these students are accomplishing.

Lou Leto is an enthusiast for all things automotive and volunteers to support organizations and events in San Clemente. He is a member of the Auto Academy Advisory Committee.



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