By B.C. Manion
The six-bay garage looks like any other place where motorists can get oil changes and other maintenance, but this shop is behind Wesley Chapel High, and the technicians are high school students.
The school’s Academy of Automotive Technology opened its new $1.4 million building for student use on Jan. 8, and a grand opening ceremony is planned for Jan. 28.
The 6,200-square-foot building includes lifts, a tool crib, an equipment crib, a classroom and teacher’s offices.
Though it hasn’t arrived yet, the shop will be equipped with a dynamometer — which allows diagnosticians to simulate what a car does under driving conditions. A vehicle can be strapped to the device and run at high speeds, for instance, giving technicians the opportunity to diagnose what is causing it to shake.
Jason Hallman and Jeff Corliss — the academy’s teachers — have extensive automotive industry experience.
Hallman, who was there last year, weighed in on the center’s design and made suggestions about the equipment. Corliss joined the staff this year because the program experienced an increase in enrollment.
“We replicate the industry better than anybody does,” Hallman said.
Hallman said the program seeks to prepare students to get jobs in the industry. It focuses on maintenance work that’s needed to keep cars on the road, such as oil changes, tires, brakes and batteries, he added. Students also learn about car detailing.
Hallman aims to make the students employable.
“We want to give them a leg up on their competition, which would be their peers,” Hallman said.
The academy introduces students to the various opportunities within the automotive industry, said Shelley Carrino, an assistant principal who oversees the program and advocated for the construction of the garage.
“There are more than just the people in the bays turning wrenches. There are people who are service managers. You have your finance people. You have your service writers. There are multiple facets of the program,” Carrino said.
The academy’s curriculum covers the ins and outs of why vehicles work or don’t work. Lessons are delivered through hands-on instruction, online materials and class lectures.
“We are preparing them for that on-the-job experience so they are able to be hired with the skill set that employers are currently looking for and they are up to date with their skills,” Carrino said.
Corliss, who worked in the industry for 13 years before joining the high school’s staff, is impressed by the new automotive center.
“It’s an amazing building. To be honest with you, this is nicer than most of the shops I’ve worked in,” Corliss said.
Students in the program face the same kind of challenge as they would encounter in a real-world garage, Corliss said.
They’re bound to make mistakes, but figuring out where they went wrong will make them better technicians, Corliss said. “If you can learn from mistakes, you know not to make them again. It makes you successful.”
Students are thrilled with the new facility and with the automotive program in general.
“I love doing hands-on work,” said Morgan Kruck, 17, who is in his third year with the program and aspires to become a BMW mechanic. He added, “I’ve always been in love with automotive and the theory and how all those parts can come together and make something move.”
Deniz Kurtis, a native of Germany, also wants to work with BMWs.
Getting to work on cars through the automotive academy is a huge motivator, the 18-year-old said.
“I love it. It’s pretty much the reason I come to school,” Kurtis said.
He thinks the students in the program are serious about automotive technology.
“If you’re in here, you’re in here for a reason,” Kurtis said.
Jacob Vann, another student in the program, aspires to race for NASCAR.
He already has seven racecars that he and his dad maintain.
Norberto Rivera, 18, has set his sights on becoming a Porsche mechanic.
“It’s always been my dream car, ever since I was little,” said Rivera, who has been in the automotive program for three years.
Rivera not only wants to repair Porsches, someday he’d like to own one, he said.
The student credits Hallman, along with Carrino, for pushing hard to get the garage facility.
“If it weren’t for those two, I don’t think this would have been opened,” Rivera said.
At the moment, the students are primarily working on vehicles that belong to Wesley Chapel Elementary, Weightman Middle and Wesley Chapel High faculty members and their families. The program will eventually branch out and allow members of the general public to bring their vehicles in for repairs.
The program is available for students throughout Pasco County, under the district’s School Choice program.
Students need to have a genuine interest in the industry to become part of the program, Carrino said.
“This isn’t something that you just try out. You need to make a commitment to the program.”
Join the celebration
What: Grand opening celebration for the Academy of Automotive Technology at Wesley Chapel High
Where: Academy of Automotive Technology building at Wesley Chapel High, 30651 Wells Road
When: 6 p.m. on Jan. 28
Who: All are invited. Please RSVP by calling (813) 794-2204 or by emailing