I was probably in elementary school when my father first shared his love of autos with me, taking the family to auto shows, getting excited when an old Ford would drive by on the highway, and later showing me how to perform an oil change for my Girl Scout badge. I remember the feeling of euphoria when I got my driver’s license and saved for my first car – a blue Ford Escort – my freedom from my parents’ shuttle.

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Chamberlain auto tech students and instructor Joe Kingsland pose with a Cobra kit car.

So, I was excited when I was given the opportunity to take a field trip to Chamberlain International School’s Auto Tech Program, which gives students with special needs an opportunity to learn about cars (and life!) while also preparing them for a potential career path after high school. Once there, I witnessed a group of like-minded teens who shared a passionate comradery over cars.

Eighty-five students, including one female, opt to take the class, restoring old vehicles, and learning about autos, academics, life and social skills along the way.

Chamberlain’s Auto Tech Program offers students a window into the automotive industry through a hands-on learning experience, helping students who have struggled in the classroom stay focused and on a path toward a potential career in the field. The elective teaches students how to responsibly buy, rent, own, care for, and renovate cars. They also learn about insurance, car value, selling cars, and an array of jobs in a booming industry. The program was recently featured on New England Cable News’ Making the Grade.

Since many of these students have challenges that make it difficult for them to learn in a traditional classroom, the hands-on enrichment program makes it easier for students to focus and comprehend information on many levels.

Joe Kingsland and his students pose with the TV crew from New England Cable News.

Joe Kingsland and his students pose with the TV crew from New England Cable News.

“In addition to learning what it’s like to maintain a car and the various auto career options, the program offers them friendship, comradery and mentorship,” says Joe Kingsland, the school’s auto technician and instructor. “Many of our students, though academically capable, have learning challenges and it’s hard for them to sit in the classroom all day long, but they get applied learning through the automotive class. They learn math, science, physics, and team cohesion. I see them mature rapidly, in a short time.”

The students are rebuilding a 1988 Jaguar XJS convertible, a Volkswagen GTI, a 1942 Chevy truck and building Factory Five Cobra Kit Cars from scratch. They also provide road side service for Chamberlain’s 15 school vans, changing flat tires, and regularly maintaining the vehicles by rotating tires, changing wiper blades and oil. Every day offers a unique learning experience.

A recent graduate, Jake K., continued on to study at Universal Technical Institute in Norwood. Jake is taking an off-site driver’s education course and is saving for his first car, which he’s pretty excited about it. He recently helped his sister avoid buying a car with hidden rust and instead educated her so she could purchase a car with more value. The course has even inspired students like Jake K. to do better in the classroom and pass the MCAS.

Andrea with her first car, a 1985 Ford Escort.

Andrea with her first car, a 1985 Ford Escort.

Who knew the students love for cars would translate into them doing well in school.

What was your first car? We’d love to hear about it! Add comments in the section below and consider sharing this with parents who have special needs children and would benefit from knowing about Chamberlain International School.