Literally learning the “nuts and bolts” of auto repair, RRHS students listen as automotive teacher Jim Gore describes the way to tell the difference between SAE and metric bolts, as well as threads per inch. Photo by Gary Herron.

“We need the trades desperately,” says David Latham, and the second step in meeting that need was the start of an automotive class earlier this month for Rio Rancho high school juniors and seniors.

Latham, the principal of the district’s Secondary Learning Center as well as career technical education program coordinator, has been vocal in his quest for more career-tech pathways for high school students.

“It’s his vision that got us here,” automotive teacher Jim Gore said of Latham, happy to have an opportunity to pass along his immense wealth of auto mechanics knowledge to interested students.

Gore has three classes, with students showing up at the district’s transportation center, where a bay has been dedicated to his class. A 1999 Jaguar XJ8 and a ’99 half-ton Dodge pickup were in the stall Tuesday and being “worked on” by students.

Rio Rancho High School juniors JaShawn Garcia, left, and Juan Gamboa work in tandem, trying to find answers on Chromebooks during Tuesday’s auto mechanics class at the district’s transportation center. Photo by Gary Herron.

The CTE classes available to high school students in recent years have included DECA, a business-preparation program; culinary arts; FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America); and audio-visual.

Underway now, or soon to get started, are dual-enrollment courses with CNM: fire science, nursing and welding, Latham said, with a medical-assistant program planned to be added in the 2020-21 school year.

“We want to give students the choice,” Latham said, and he’s stayed busy scouting other high schools to see what they are doing in the way of career-technical education.

“We can take ideas from other places, make it work for you (in Rio Rancho),” he said.

Gore’s lived in Rio Rancho since 1993 and had a role in the start-up of Don Chalmers Ford here.

“They don’t actually know anything,” Gore said of his students.

RRHS students arrive there in the morning, and Cleveland High students come in the early afternoon, followed by several from Independence High and Cyber Academy.

“There’s a couple that think they know a lot,” Gore quipped. “I had overhauled my first engine by the time I was 12. I (eventually) made my living doing everything, bumper to bumper.”

Latham noted that in many technical fields, the average age of the workers is in the 50s and 60s, hence the future need to replace those people — and the demand is already there, nationwide. (One recent national report estimated the country will be short 400,000 welders by 2024.)

RRPS wants to do whatever it can to help meet that demand, hence the addition this month of the automotive class.