By Laura McMillan
On the first day of school last year, Jonesboro High School automotive technology students made their way down a 29-year-old hall to an antiquated classroom with a group of half-broken desks separated from a garage by a three-foot tall cinderblock wall.
Quite a different scene lay at the end of a brand new bright hallway for this year's vocational classes at Jonesboro High. Instead of a big, gray, warehouse-like garage, the auto tech lab was half an air-conditioned state of the art computer and lecture station and half a newly furnished garage.
The Jonesboro High School vocational building, originally built in 1975, underwent renovation last year when the construction, auto tech, and science labs at the back to the building were forced to endure life in a modular unit for the majority of the year.
"It was boring," James Wirthlin, a senior who has been in auto tech four years, said of his time in the trailer, which was filled primarily by book work. He, his classmates, and his teacher all indicated the new lab complete with machinery and 21 new student computers was worth the wait.
The total cost for renovating Jonesboro High School from the dry erase boards to the sidewalk pavement to the vocational building was $1.6 million according to Ronnie Watts, the coordinating supervisor for facility construction.
Watts estimated a single auto technology lab alone would cost approximately $100,000. "That building has 21 classrooms and if you're going to talk about any one classroom that would probably be the most expensive," Watts said of the cost of the auto tech lab in comparison to the rest of Jonesboro's vocational building.
Watts explained the difference between the original auto repair lab and the new auto service technology lab. "It taught you how to change tires, change oil," Watts said referring to the extent of the facility and materials in the lab prior to the renovation.
Auto Tech teacher, Gaines Jinks is pleased with the investment. "I just feel like this is a better way to teach," Jinks said of his role as less of a traditional teacher and more of a facilitator of educational computer programs and a resource for his students in the garage.
Jinks, an Automotive Safety Excellence (ACE) master auto technician, heavy duty truck technician, one-time Midas employee, Fulton County bus mechanic, and auto tech teacher for several years in Clayton County, is certainly an authority on whether or not this is the best method of education.
Jinks explained the most beneficial aspect of his new and improved class, "(The student) can do two years of work in one." Students, he said, are allowed to work as quickly as they would like, but deadlines prohibit others from falling behind.
The auto tech classroom's computer software is set up with a teacher's management station, hands on aspects, a work off site option, and a tutorial program helping the students with any math concept through geometry, he said.
According to Jinks, some students are more motivated than others. "I see the advanced classes showing more interest. The ninth grade class comes in expecting 'hobby shop.' They are surprised to learn they will be applying math, science, physics, and English as well as automotive concepts," he said.
Senior, Phillip Davenport said that Jinks was a helpful teacher, but admitted that what little he has done on the computer held his attention more than any teacher could. "It wouldn't be as interesting. It would be out of the books," Davenport said.
Jinks explained the downside of the separated classroom and garage and the individual computer stations, "The classroom will be more difficult to manage due to the need of each student to be at his own pace."
The project illustrates that no quiet corner of the county is safe from the sweeping changes that have affected the school system in recent years. The work done to spruce up Jonesboro High School is one beneficial change for those students seeking the highest quality education possible.
Jinks is just pleased that his classroom is finally catching up to the automotive industry of the real world. "The new class structure will attract those students that enjoy working with their hands as well as their minds. The modern automobile is so computerize that often we spend more time diagnosing the problem than we do doing the repair. The technician that knows how the car works will be ahead of the tech that can only hang parts," said Jinks.