Students look under the hood

By Nicole Brodzik
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Waconia High School seniors visit NAPA Auto Parts in Waconia as part of a Senior Seminar on auto care. (Nicole Brodzik/The Patriot)

In just 14 days, David Aeling is preparing students for their immediate and long-term futures. He teaches a three-week section of Senior Seminar that introduces students to the ins and outs of cars, more specifically, of their own cars.

“We get to go out and work on our own cars every day which is really helpful,” Waconia senior Peter Weinand said. “He doesn’t just show you how to do it, he makes you comfortable doing what we learn so if you need to in the future, you can fix you’re own car.”

On Nov. 14, Aeling took his students to NAPA Auto Parts in Waconia to learn about car care products and how to prepare their vehicles for winter. It’s one of a handful of field trips the students go on in the 14-day course.

“I’ve been doing this for just about three years now,” Aeling said. “We try to hook them up with car care products, like this. They talk to a person who deals with tools, they talk to collision, they have an insurance person come in and we go to Ford to talk about service and buying a new car.”

Beyond going on the visits, Aeling said one of the bigger topics they focus on is how to change their own tires. He said that it’s not something he could teach by just showing them, especially since it’s different for many cars.

“We go out and they take their jack out and they actually put that jack where it’s supposed to be, because they lift at different spots now,” he said. “It’s really critical. We actually do that and they take a picture of that, so they can monitor all the things they’re doing for the future.”

Aeling also said that some students have expressed interest in going into the automotive industry after taking the course, which he sees as a good thing.

“There’s a number of different classes, besides this, and I think that’s starting to come to light a bit more,” he said. “I have students asking me about the career and the industry. I actually have one student that’s talking to me about going to Dunwoody that took it last rotation.”

Even the students who don’t plan to turn automotive care into a career see value in the hands-on learning experience. Sammy Caldwell is planning to go to college next fall and sees the short 14-day course as a way to prepare for life on her own.

“I knew how to check my oil, but other than that I was completely useless in the car department,” she said. “Of all the other rotations in senior seminar, this definitely prepares us for when we don’t have these teachers or our parents to use when we need them.”

Girls like Caldwell are an example of the gender stereotype breakdown Aeling sees in his classes every day.
“It breaks down that male, female tension,” he said. “The gals are just as comfortable as the guys underneath their cars, down there checking oil. We have a lot of fun with it.”

And some students are even discovering issues in their vehicles that would have gone unnoticed if not for Aeling’s course.

“I was actually missing a cap to the radiator fluid on my car and I didn’t really know it was a problem,” senior Abby Wolf said. “My dad usually takes care of that stuff, but he hasn’t looked in a while so we were actually able to call this store and special order me a cap for my car that I could pick up after that school that day.”

Aeling sees his course as an introduction to auto care and he said he hopes students will continue to learn about their vehicles in order to be good consumers and stay safe. That message has rang clear for Caldwell.

“A car’s almost like a child,” she said. “You have to treat it with care, otherwise it’s going to break down, but instead of it crying, I’ll cry maybe.”