By Evan Brandt email@example.com @PottstownNews on Twitter
POTTSTOWN — Senior Jesse Blair has known he wanted to be an auto mechanic since he was a little boy; so much so that he already owns four trucks he works on when he's not in the auto shop at Pottstown High School. But under-funded as it is by $13 million every year by Pennsylvania's uneven funding for education, the district has been unable to purchase all the equipment Jesse and his classmates need to be ready for the workplace when they graduate in June.
At least until Thursday.
That's when a major gap in the high school's was filled and the new, shiny red Hawkeye Elite wheel alignment system was unveiled and its purchase, thanks to a combination of grants and donations, was celebrated.
"I think it's my generation that screwed up education," said Scott Bentley, founder of VideoRay. One of the members of his family donated more than $23,000 toward the $58,000 purchase price.
"We told our kids if they didn't go to college, they were a failure when we all know college is not the right choice for everyone. So we had a generation of kids who graduated with a mountain of debt and asked themselves why they went to college in the first place," Bentley said.
"It was not fair to students like this," he said indicating the Pottstown High School automotive technology students who were standing behind him. "And it doesn't help the country. I read recently that more than half the country's plumbers are going to retire in 10 years. What are we going to do then? America needs plumbers."
And, he added looking at his Tesla, which was the first car up on the new alignment system, "Tesla is desperate for mechanics."
Pottstown High School Principal Danielle McCoy, who previously ran the districts comprehensive Career and Technology Center, couldn't agree more.
"The culture is shifting finally, and people are seeing that this is as viable a career, perhaps more so, than you might find by going to college," McCoy said.
"This is the direction the country is going," said state Rep. Joe Ciresi, D-146th Dist. whose office helped secure a $14,622 Supplemental Equipment Grant from the state to help cover the cost.
"It's a great career, a career for life, and I'm just sad at the lengths Pottstown has to go to in order to provide its students with the same opportunities as other students across the state," he said.
But that is the job of the Foundation for Pottstown Education. "Our goal is to level the playing field for our students," said Joe Rusiewicz, the foundation's executive director.
He said Pottstown Schools Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez "came to me and asked 'does the foundation have $50,000?' and I said, 'you know we don't,' but five minutes later, I had a plan."
That plan involved seeking out the state grant and then finding a local business partner willing to make up the difference.
Given that knowledge of, and expertise upon, a wheel alignment machine is part of the standardized test career and technology students have to take, it put Pottstown students at a disadvantage, said Rodriguez.
"We are always trying to reach out to our business community looking for partners and this is a perfect example," said Rodriquez. Not only will the students now be better prepared for their certification exams, "when they graduate and enter the workforce, they will have the experience required."
Blair and his fellow seniors Jayden Harrington, Hassan Garcia-Davis, Jose Caballero and Quinlan DeAngelo were eager to start getting that experience and wasted no time when a reporter asked for a demonstration of the equipment.
"This is going to be awesome. This whole class is just so fun," said Garcia-Davis.
The partnership has also moved Pottstown from the back of the line, to the forefront with this new equipment said Mike Hewitt, who teaches the automotive technology class at Pottstown.
"This is the most advanced system in the world right now," he said. Pointing out that it uses lasers to properly align wheels and struts, Hewitt noted happily that "90 percent of the high school shops do not have this equipment yet."