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Bullard Havens tops in automotive technology

November 25, 2018

BRIDGEPORT — Reaching up under a Dodge Ram 1500, Brandon Spinks, a junior in the automotive shop at Bullard Havens Technical High School, was trouble-shooting a suspension problem.

He felt like a doctor treating a patient, Spinks confided.

Instructor Rob Ellis checked in to assure Spinks he was on the right track.

“I want him to figure it out without being told,” Ellis said, moving down a garage with eight lifts and an equal number of automobiles with problems to diagnose.

Just back from several weeks spent in academic classes, it was day one of a new trade cycle. This group of 18 juniors already had a foreman, a tool crib attendant and a plan of action for a host of donated vehicles and customer cars.

They headed to their assignments, laptops in hand.

“The point I, want to get across is there are 17 schools that do this,” said Roxanne Amiot, the automotive department head. “Every time I put out what we do, we are honored for it.”

That “you cant win if you don’t play” mantra may have contributed to Bullard Havens being named the 2018 School of the Year by WIX Filters and Tomorrow’s Tech magazine for excellence in its automotive technology programs.

Others say it is more.

“The automotive technology program at Bullard Havens Technical High School wowed our judges for its ability to go above and beyond,” said Carley Hull Millhone, editor of Tomorrow’s Tech. “What sets the Bullard Havens automotive technology program apart, and makes the program the best of the best, is its positive learning environment and most importantly, its dedication to training career-ready students.”

The department was nominated in the spring and submitted a 6-minute video describing what Bullard Havens does.

“What we do is what is needed by industry,” Amiot said.

The shop is licensed to do auto repairs. Students can earn up to 12 college credits toward an associate degree at Gateway Community College, and leave with Automotive Service Excellence certification if they pass the test. There are also internships at local car dealerships and garages.

Two seniors are out on on internships this semester. Barry Jean-Pierre, a junior, spent the summer working at D’Addario Nissan in Shelton.

“I learned to be focused and precise at what I do,” Jean-Pierre said. “Real life is different. You can’t mess up.”

Jean-Pierre also practices what he learns at home on his own base model BMW.

Exploring options

While students like Jean-Pierre enter Bullard Havens knowing automotive is the trade for them, others learn it during the schools freshman exploratory semester.

That is how Gloriani Domenech, a junior ended up working on the stabilizer of a Denali GMC.

“I came for culinary,” Domenech said. “This was the second shop I came to.”

She doesn’t see her self doing this for a living, but likes that she knows what struts are and can do an oil change.

Forty years ago, Amiot felt pretty much the same way.

She entered Bullard intending to take fashion design. During freshman rotation, where student try out all the trades, she thought she would hate automotive.

“I came in and thought the place stunk,” she said.

Turns out, she liked learning about something she knew nothing about.

Not only did she make it a career, she would go to school at night for a teaching certificate while working daytime jobs at dealerships. She went on to teach at Bullard Havens, Platt Tech, and Emmett O’Brien before returning to Bullard six years ago as the department head.

The biggest change since she was a student, she said, is the technology. It is no longer enough to be a good mechanic. Students also have to be tech savvy. Every system has some kind of electronic component.

That is not to say students don’t still get their hands dirty during the 91 days each school year they spend in their trade.

In sophomore years, students try their hand at a row of engine blocks, tearing them apart and putting them back together.

In senior year, they each do a capstone project.

Altogether there are about 70 students in the trade. About 10 percent are females.

All high schools and post-secondary schools with a subscription to Tomorrow’s Tech magazine are eligible to enter the School of the Year contest which is now in its 11th year. This year there were 221 entries.

The honor comes with a $5,000 donation to the department, a tool set and a ceremony at the school on Nov. 29.

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