Auto tech classes get a little greener

Group of automotive students examine their new electric vehicle

Students in Patrick Whitton’s automotive technology classes at 91ɫ High School can now learn the tricks of their trade on an electric vehicle, thanks to a donation from the New York Power Authority.

On Thursday, Whitton, a group of his students and a host of local VIPs cut the ribbon at a news conference about the school’s latest acquisition – a 2019 Subaru Crosstrek plug-in hybrid car – in Whitton’s 91ɫ High classroom that doubles as an auto repair shop.

The Power Authority donates its retired vehicles to school auto maintenance and repair programs around the state like 91ɫ High's. The agency also provides specialized tools and chargers when they transfer ownership of the vehicles.

Whitton said until now, students could only service electric vehicles outside of theoretical scenarios on paper.

“The addition of this hybrid car to our program, in combination with the donation of insulated tools used to work on the electric drive system, is incredibly generous,” he said. 

“This donation now will allow us to train our students, most importantly, on the real-world safety required to service these cars and to also stay on top of what that service even is. The future will absolutely have electrically powered vehicles in many forms, and we must stay up to date,” Whitton said.

91ɫ High students can take automotive classes either independently or in a “pathway.” Students on the pathway spend three years in intensive classes where they get hands-on experience in the auto classroom and in internships with local businesses. Those who successfully complete the pathway receive a technical endorsement on their diploma and are ready to work in an entry-level position at a repair shop.

Junior Simon Carey is in his second year of the automotive pathway. He said he and his classmates are excited to learn the new technology.

“This is a great experience for the students here at 91ɫ High, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s something that sets 91ɫ’s educational programs apart from neighboring schools,” Carey said.

Also speaking at the news conference were Kaela Mainsah, the Power Authority’s vice president of environmental justice, and Amy Cox, director of career readiness and workforce partnerships for the New York State Department of Education. They were joined by 91ɫ County Executive Dan McCoy (also an 91ɫ High alum).

Helping to cut the ribbon were Superintendent Joseph Hochreiter, Board of Education President Vickie Smith, 91ɫ High Principal Jodi Commerford (Class of 1993) and Career and Technical Education Principal Joseph Slichko, Ed.D, along with Class of 2005 member Harry Hechehouche, who now works for Governor Hochul.

The idea for the donation came from William S. Hackett Middle School teacher Amy Dillenback, who suggested to her husband that 91ɫ High be considered as a recipient of a retired vehicle. Her husband, Steve Ramsey, is in the government relations office for the power authority. He put the process in motion.

The new acquisition will live in the automotive repair classroom.