Chancy J. Gatlin-Anderson
Special to Colorado Community Media
Elizabeth High School recently broke ground on its new auto shop and classroom building at the north side of campus. Elizabeth School District leadership, school board directors, Principal Bret McClendon and all Elizabeth High School students and staff were present to celebrate the May 4 groundbreaking.
“This new space will open up so many more possibilities for our students to perform different operations. We’ll be able to work on cars while they’re in the air. We can do more disassembly and reassembly,” said Derek Spohn, teacher for the automotive program. “We can work on different labs even in bad weather. It is a better environment for the students and their learning. It’s a duplication of what the real world is.”
According to a press release from April 27, Elizabeth High School’s new auto program began this school year with nearly 150 students in Auto I and Consumer Automotive classes taught by Spohn. Spohn also initiated an extracurricular club for mechanically minded students, launched EHS’ first-ever car show, and brought numerous representatives from technical schools to campus to help students explore options for their future.
“I’m going to try my best to provide experiences and situations where students can find out and explore if this is something they want to do, and if so, in what capacity,” commented Spohn. “There are so many different places where they can engage the automotive world and we want to open up all those doors for them.”
Also according to the press release, the auto program is an outgrowth of the Homegrown Talent Initiative, a rural grant program which lasted from 2019-2021 and brought dozens of new ideas and approaches to Elizabeth School District’s student engagement, all with the intent of positioning students for success after graduation. The district’s work on Homegrown Talent Initiative set the table for several new funding opportunities, including the Rural Coaction Grant from the Colorado Department of Education. That grant provided $467,500 for the new automotive building.
“Along with our CNA (certified nursing assistant) program, this will lead towards a robust pipeline where students have the ability to go straight into the workforce,” said Assistant Superintendent Dr. Bill Dallas. “I’m a firm believer that high school in five years is going to look different than it ever has for juniors and seniors. Instead of students being in seats and in classrooms 100% of the time, we’re going to see a large move toward internships and direct workforce opportunities where kids will leave school already with years of service in the profession they want to go into, and the automotive program is just one example of that.”
The Rural Coaction grant also will enable Elizabeth School District to partner with Elbert School District and Kiowa School District to make unique programs available to students in all three districts. Elbert and Kiowa students will be able to take auto classes at the new Elizabeth shop.
Rural Coaction funds are also being used to bolster woodworking classes at Elbert that will be available to Elizabeth and Kiowa students. Construction classes at Kiowa, likewise, will be available to Elbert and Elizabeth students. Several classes geared to other career fields will be made available in this “expanded campus” concept in coming years.
“Now due to the funding that we’ve been able to receive through the state through the Coaction grant, we’re able to actually provide a very meaningful facility to grow that program further,” commented Dallas. “We see not only interest in auto, we see Auto II, we see diesel mechanic opportunities. We also see welding growth. This facility would not have been possible without the Coaction grant.”
The ceremony concluded with Spohn and the student leadership of the Elizabeth High School Skills USA Club ceremoniously digging up the dirt from the ground upon which the future auto shop will sit. Construction will begin soon by Elizabeth-based Prism Builds. The company is owned by Scott Stillman, an EHS Class of 1982 alumnus.
“This is beyond what I dreamed. When the initial plans were made for the start of this project, people speculated that we may get a new auto shop in three to five years. To have it happen in the first year is astounding,” said Spohn. “There are too many people to thank. This is all thanks to the people of the community, the school district, the teachers, and even people from other schools. And it is all the students who have done the work and signed up for the classes. They have carried themselves in a way that represents the culture of the program that we’re building.”