The Tri-County Schools Automotive Program is the first of its kind in New England. It is designed specifically to educate students with autism and other special needs about the automotive industry.
"It's like a dream come true, really, for me to have a school with kids who are like me," said John Robison, the advisor and visionary behind the program. "For the students seeing a guy like me, an adult with autism who successfully made a business, they see that all around them are accepting people"
The school started back in September. In its first year a dozen students enrolled.
"Our students come here in two shifts so they'll do a week here in the automotive program and then they'll do a week in regular academics at the Tri-County campus in Eashampton," said Robison.
In the first few weeks of training, teachers working with these students say they can already see a difference.
"I see them in both settings. I see them in their academics setting and I see them in their vocational setting, because we work as a team. I see a definite difference in the amount of focus that they have with the hands-on aspects of a trade," said automotive instructor Mark Girard.
And students say they're excited to be getting experience in the field they hope to one day work in.
"It's awesome," said student Stephen Kushing. "I like automechanics, always have, and it's just awesome being in the shop."
"I love it," said student Giovanny Evangeliska. "It is better than school."
As for Robison, he is confident that this program will prepare its students for their future careers.
"We fully expect that our students are going to be able to graduate with credentials to work in the automotive field, not just a high school diploma," Robison said.
Robison does hope the program will expand in the future.
Tri-County Schools work with students with challenges including autism and Asperger's. Students are referred from school districts all over Western Massachusetts. The automotive program teaches students from greater Springfield to as far away as the Vermont border.
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