By B.C. Manion
Whether it’s to avoid rip-offs, repair race cars, work on diesel engines or to get a good-paying job, students offer different reasons for taking part in the Automotive Technology Career Academy at Wesley Chapel High School.
When the students get to their classroom each day, they know the drill. They put on their mechanic shirts, grab their laptops and get ready to find out what Kurt Stonehouse, their instructor wants them to do that day.
Sometimes they’ll be learning new facets of automotive repair in a lecture setting; other times, they’ll be grabbing their goggles and going out back to get some hands-on practice of diagnosing what’s wrong with a car and figuring out how to fix it.
That’s what they did the other day, when they tracked down why a 1998 Ford Windstar wouldn’t start.
The academy takes students through a rigorous program to prepare them for careers as service technicians in the automotive industry. Instruction covers the ins and outs of why vehicles work or don’t work. Specific coverage areas include auto suspension and steering, engine performance, electrical and electronics, and brakes.
The required repairs are challenging to prepare students for an increasingly sophisticated field, Stonehouse said. “It’s getting to be highly technical.”
The challenge appeals to 15-year-old Brett Taylor. “I like the complexity of it,” he said.
Seventeen-year-old Daniel Brioso flat out enjoys working on cars. “Why not make a career out of that? What could be better than working with something you love?”
The program combines online computer instruction, class lectures and practical applications. The hands-on work involves diagnosing problems and making repairs.
Sixteen-year-old Vince Esposito enjoys the hands-on work – especially being able to go outdoors to work on vehicles instead of being stuck inside a classroom all day.
The program, now in its second year, has 98 students – up from 40 last year. Two of the students are females, Stonehouse said.
The program works closely with area dealerships to help ensure that the students completing the program will be well-prepared.
“With our dealership and our industry partners, we kind of look to them as to what they are looking for in a new employee,” Stonehouse said.
“We want to know what they want to see. They tell us that good strong electrical knowledge is what they want because of technology. They want them to know the Ohm’s law and the calculations and the way electricity works.”
“It’s that invisible knowledge with electricity that they see as a weakness,” Stonehouse said.
The instructor praises the dealerships for all of the help they have provided. “I went to them and they’re all 100 percent supportive. Most of them are on our advisory committee.
The academy had an induction ceremony at the beginning of the year and dealership representatives turned out in full force, Stonehouse said. “If you want to show how an industry supports a school, that was a perfect example.”
By using online instruction, in addition to classroom lectures, students can work at their own pace, Stonehouse said. Students must demonstrate the ability to diagnose and make repairs.
“Some will be ready to do tasks right away. Some need a little extra time,” he said.
Eventually Stonehouse wants to be able to set up a small repair shop at the school allowing customers to bring in their cars for certain types of repairs. There would have to be a disclaimer so the customer realizes the repairs are being made by students; and, the types of repairs would be limited to those which the students are prepared to tackle, he said.
That will come later, Stonehouse said.
For now, the class could use a few cars for practice, Stonehouse said. He invites anyone who wants to donate a car to get in touch with him at or to call him at (813) 794-8835 or (813) 794-8700.