For 11 weeks, Andrew, a standout auto mechanics student at Channel Islands High School, is attending Construction Mechanic “A” School, working alongside 24 Navy and Air Force recruits at the Naval Construction Training Center, Port Hueneme, learning the ins and outs of the engines, power trains, brakes, steering systems and other critical components of military and commercial vehicles.
By the time he’s done, Andrew will have the high school credits he needs plus a jump start on a vocational school education that can lead to an auto mechanic certificate and the job opportunities that come with it.
And he won’t have paid a dime.
“I’m pretty amazed about that,” he said.
Geer is one of five students taking advantage of a fledgling program that opens NCTC’s doors to outstanding mechanically inclined high school students. Two other local high school students are currently in the program, and two graduated earlier this year.
“We’re ecstatic about being able to provide this program,” said NCTC Chief Construction Mechanic Jeff Bright. “It helps students to graduate on time with the correct number of credits, and it can provide some direction to those who aren’t sure what they want to do with their lives.”
“It’s pretty good so far,” Andrew said during his second week of classes. “We spent all last week on the cooling system, the ignition system and the basics of an engine. The cooling system I didn’t know anything about that.”
Safety was also a big part of the curriculum, as was paperwork for the recruits.
“I like working with my hands more than the paperwork,” he said.
His oldest classmate is 31; the youngest is 18.
“I’ve become friends with a couple of them, well enough to talk to and ask questions,” he said.
Andrew is attending courses in the NCTC classrooms from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Officially, he’s in independent studies, so he squeezes in English, physical education and other academics the rest of the day, as instructed by an Oxnard Union High School District independent studies coordinator.
For the next few weeks, Andrew will be studying electrical components and batteries, lighting and warning systems, starting systems, electronic ignition, on-board computer systems and diesel engines.
The second half of the class deals with hydraulic, suspension and steering systems, plus transmission, drive lines, gear boxes and brakes.
Andrew’s father, Eric, worked as a mechanic for 10 years, and Andrew grew up tinkering with cars. Today, there’s a 1971 Plymouth Satellite sitting in his side yard, waiting for him to get some spare time.
“I’ve grown up around manual labor work,” he said. “It’s more fun for me than bookwork. I can’t sit around and do nothing for awhile.”
Still, it was by sheer accident that he ended up in auto shop in high school.
“I’d signed up for cooking, but they put me in auto shop,” he said. “It ended up being pretty interesting.”
At the start of this school year, Andrew signed up for the NCTC program. He went through an interview process and was selected.
“They told me they’d be watching me because I wasn’t always going to class at Channel Islands,” he confessed. “They thought that if I was in a military program, I’d do better.”
He didn’t know what to expect from the instructors.
“I thought they’d all be drill instructors, yelling and screaming,” he said. “It’s a lot more relaxed than I thought. It’s also harder. There’s a lot more bookwork and homework than I expected.”
He said the program has forced him to concentrate and focus.
“Andrew is a good example of the type of student we’re trying to get in this program,” Bright said. “We can provide a lot of guidance for a student who might be struggling in a pure academic environment or who might be having disagreements with authority figures. ”
He called Andrew a “model student” in A-school.
“He’s on time, and he’s willing to learn,” Bright said.
Outside of school, his interests are varied. He’s working to become an Eagle Scout, and he loves animals. He runs his black Labrador mix, Rigel, three times a day, also taking care of pet tarantulas and other spiders, pythons and other reptiles and fish.
He collects swords, comic books and videogames.
So will he be a mechanic for the military?
“I’ll probably go into the Navy or the Air Force,” he says. “But I want to be an Airborne Ranger or a Navy SEAL. I like pushing everything to the limit, seeing what I can do.”