Sixth period at South Fort Myers High School found 16-year-old Kyle Ursoleu in the same spot he’d likely be if given the day entirely to himself.
His swamp buggy looming behind him in the school’s auto mechanic classroom, Kyle packed bearings with the vivid blue grease needed to get the vehicle he shares with his dad back in shape.
“This is something I’ve been waiting for,” he said. “To get into a class like this. I want to learn the whole nine yards.”
For the close to 100 students in the automotive academy at South Fort Myers High School, the class is an opportunity to develop not only a hobby but a career.
The comprehensive high school, which opened this year, is one of only two in the Lee County School District that offers academies in everything from building trades to criminal justice for students who also can pursue a traditional high school experience.
Ida B. Baker High in Cape Coral, also new this year, offers the same program. Teens who wanted to take an auto mechanic’s course before had to head to Lee County High Tech.
Teacher James Moss said until recently the cars that fill the school shop’s four bays came from students like Kyle, who are allowed to work on their own vehicles, or from teachers willing to sign a waiver and put their vehicles in the teens’ hands.
The one exception came from High Tech itself — a blue 1995 Ford Crown Victoria that hovered on a lift while a cluster of Moss’ students practiced changing tires.
The vehicle, a gift from the technical high school, is a way for the burgeoning mechanics to practice changing oil, tires and belts on the school’s car before working on someone else’s, Moss said.
Students start with the basics — safety, tools and identifying car parts — then take on projects like removing and rebuilding engines.
Those who haven’t had experience working on a real car in the past can decide if mechanics is for them, he said. Out of his current batch of students, in place a year before the academies will go into full swing, he estimates about one-fourth will go on to become certified mechanics.
“If you’re going to drive it, that’s one thing,” he said of the difference between a hobby mechanic and someone who will make it their career. “If you’re going to fix it, that’s another.”
Katie Glovas’ 1995 Ford Taurus wagon could come to the shop.
It has a shimmy in its front end. The wheels need to be realigned again.
But Katie, 17, has spent enough time in mechanics shops to know odds are the car’s headed to a dealer’s lot when the cost of the repairs exceed its value.
She knows the fact she’s a girl might mean some people she would take her car to might take her for a ride. That’s why, in addition to being interested in mechanics, the South Fort Myers High senior decided to take on Moss’ class.
Katie said she wants to understand what a mechanic is doing — those things that by the end of the year she’s not able to fix for herself.
Even while she’s looking to sell, classmate 16-year-old Felipe Santana is hoping to buy.
Once a student at Cypress Lake High School, he transferred to South just to take advantage of the automotive program. Bent over a black Camaro as he considers how to remove its engine, Felipe said he’d like to make it his first car. A teacher who found it through an online auction service recently learned the gaskets are blown.
Budding mechanic Felipe offered up a broad range when asked how much it might cost to fix it.
Could be $500 to $1,000, he said.
If previous experience is any indication, the cost could be worth it.
Moss said before the Crown Victoria, the shop had another offer for a donated vehicle that ultimately fell through.
Repaired by the students, it drove off their lot headed for a sale.