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Fairmont Area Schools adding auto academy

FAIRMONT — Fairmont Area Schools recently won a $50,000 matching grant from LYFT Pathways to be used for an automotive academy.

“We wrote the grant because we wanted to add another vocational academy to Fairmont Area Schools,” said Superintendent Joe Brown. “We have an agriculture academy and a welding academy. We will call this the Martin County automotive academy.”

Brown said they will collaborate with Granada-Huntley-East Chain and Truman high schools to offer classes to their students.

The district also is collaborating with local businesses that will serve as mentors for the program. They are Hawkins Chevrolet, Elizabeth Chevrolet and Fairmont Ford. Two instructors from Minnesota West will serve as mentors. One teaches automotive and one teaches powersports.

“We’ve already started ordering new equipment. We’re ordering about $100,000 in new equipment,” Brown said.

He said the district is getting a second lift in the auto shop as well as new electronic equipment to test vehicles.

Fairmont Area’s Bob Bonin will be the automotive instructor. He currently teaches several automotive classes and is the welding instructor at Fairmont High School.

Bonin said getting the grant is important because the industry is shifting to a lot of electric and hybrid cars, and while Fairmont Area’s shop is nice, it does not include the equipment needed to prepare students to work on and learn about these new advancements.

“The question was are we any better than we were 10 years ago and the answer to that was no,” Bonin said. “So I went and told Joe my desires and how we could get the students better, and we went after the LYFT grant.”

Bonin said Fairmont is the only school in the region that will have such a comprehensive automotive program.

“We need to make sure we’re training them on the same equipment that they’re going to be working on in a shop,” he said. “Now I have the opportunity to have quality products in our school that a student will see at the next level and already have experience with.”

Initially, classes will take place on Saturdays, beginning Jan. 11 and continuing through June 8. A summer session also will take place.

There will be 15 classes at four hours long, bringing total class hours to 60, which Brown said equals a credit at Fairmont High School. Students from other schools also will receive a credit or half a credit, depending on how each district counts it.

“Next school year, we’ll probably be incorporating this as a two-hour class embedded into the schedule either at the beginning or end of the school day so that students from other districts can come and take the class,” Brown explained.

The class will likely be capped at 20 students. Other schools have been asked to start collecting names of interested students. Upperclassmen will get first priority.

Fairmont Area Schools will provide the additional $50,000, as well as paying the salary and benefits of the instructor. Brown said the district has yet to decide whether to charge tuition for outside students once classes are offered during the school day.

“The main thing we want to do right now is get it going,” Brown said. “We’re getting all of the materials and equipment over the next eight weeks so we can be ready to start in January.”

Bonin and Brown said the program and partnership is a win-win on many levels.

“It adds one more vocational academy,” Brown said. “It also shows that we’re collaborating with two of our neighboring school districts and we’re also collaborating with three of our local businesses. I think that’s really superb.”

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