Making the Grade: Mechanics class turns students into craftsmen

Send us your storiesEach week we look at programs, projects and other successful endeavors at area schools — from pre-K to grad school. To suggest a story, contact H.M. Cauley at or 770-744-3042.

Information about the automotive technology program at Forsyth Central:

Marlo Miranda, the automotive technology teacher at Forsyth Central High, tends to talk in car terms. For instance, he recounts how, when he arrived at the school in 2004, his program “was idling and in need of a jump start.”

But Miranda did more than recharge the program, he gave it an super-charged overhaul.

“The school district had a big commitment to the program, so we revamped it,” he said. “In 2006, for the first time, the program was accredited by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. Each year after, we improved our certification, taking it up a level. Last year, we set out to earn the highest level, masters, and we did.”

The accomplishment also marked the first time a comprehensive high school earned the masters level designation in automotive technology.

“That was a very big deal for us and our students,” said Miranda. “Coming from a master-credited program means students leave here fully certified in eight areas.”

Students begin by working toward certification in engine repair then move through automatic transmissions, manual transmissions, suspension steering, brakes, electrical systems, and air conditioning/heating and, finally, engine performance. The 1,200 hours of training, including an internship, span four years and take many students to technical colleges or jobs as professional technicians. But learning a marketable skill is just one of the features for the 250 students in the program.

“We have a lot of students who are into racing,” said Miranda. “I have kids who just love cars. We share that passion. I also work very closely with the engineering program. We share a lot of the same students who want to be automotive engineers and want to get some direct applications. Other students are seeking careers in the automotive field, including sales, parts and service.”

Senior Jon Richards learned about the program when Miranda spoke to his middle school class. “I’ve always been interested in cars - I have a ‘73 Satellite I’ve been working on – and I intern at a mechanic’s [shop] now. The classes have given me a good grasp on the technology and a more in-depth understanding of how things work. It’s good to go from school to work and see how what I’ve been learning really works.”

Conor Tell, a senior, got into the program with an eye toward a career. He’s now interested in opening his own detailing business.

“I’m a car buff, and I like doing the bodywork and paint to restore a car to its original condition,” he said. “But there are also lots of high-end cars in Atlanta, so I think there’s a big market for this kind of work.”

For Miranda, who was Forsyth County’s teacher of the year for 2014-15 and is now a finalist for Georgia Teacher of the Year, the program goes beyond job preparedness.

“I have spent my career trying to change the stigma in our society that says if you’re not a doctor, lawyer or engineer, you haven’t achieved anything,” he said. “We need electricians, plumbers, carpenters and mechanics just as much. A true craftsman who puts a lot of value in his work is revered, and programs like this are slowly changing those old ideas.”