A-school is nothing like high school, student discovers

Hands on | © Andrea Howry/Lighthouse
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© Andrea Howry/Lighthouse
Airman Matthew Knauer, an Air Force student at the Naval Construction Training Center, Naval Base Ventura County, Port Hueneme, discusses the intricacies of a diesel engine with high school student Andrew Geer. Andrew is about halfway through the 11-week course he’s taking alongside Navy and Air Force students. © Andrea Howry/Lighthouse
They may call it school, but Andrew Geer will tell you that Construction Mechanic A-school in the Navy is nothing — nothing — like high school.

“The tests are a lot different,” says the 17-year-old high school junior who’s about halfway through the 11-week curriculum. “They give you a better feel for real life.

“And it’s going by a lot faster than normal school.”

Andrew, who was a standout in his auto shop class at Channel Islands High School, is studying alongside 24 Navy and Air Force students at the Naval Construction Training Center (NCTC) at Naval Base Ventura County, Port Hueneme. He’s in the NCTC classrooms from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. five days a week, and then does his English, math, history and physical education classwork through an independent study program.

The first few days were a lot of paperwork and classroom basics, and then the lessons rapidly progressed into internal combustion engines and their components. By the third week, Andrew was learning about batteries, starting systems and charging systems, then by week four, he was studying ignition systems, emissions systems and the onboard computer.

Now, he’s being introduced to diesel engines.

“We never got anywhere near this in high school,” he said. “We also didn’t have nearly this much equipment.”

It’s that kind of opportunity that makes this program so valuable say the program organizers on both sides: Phyllis Throckmorton, the director of career and technical education at the Oxnard Union High School District, and NCTC Chief Construction Mechanic Jeff Bright.

“The exposure is phenomenal,” Throckmorton said.

“It’s a win-win for everybody.”

She said this program illustrates how students, when engaged in what they’re learning, can step up and do more than they ever thought possible.

“This gives them a completely different viewpoint on themselves, on education and on what they can accomplish,” she said.

Bright also welcomes the chance to teach motivated teenagers marketable skills that, in turn, will create a better society, he believes.

“I think the program is great because it gives these students an opportunity to learn a skill and when they are done they can go out into the civilian sector and apply it to better the community, he said. “It is also good because the students are learning about discipline, dedication and receiving guidance. They’ll have more direction in life. They won’t just be hanging out with friends every day. They’ll be able to influence small circles of friends, and that will all have a positive impact on our local communities.”

Not every high school student will go to college, Throckmorton agreed.

“Some of our students need to be ready to go directly to the world of work,” she said. “We’re grateful to the military for opening its doors. We’re glad to have this program on base.”

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