Hot Rod High: Now that’s learning!

by Steve Wyckoff on March 10, 2010

Okay, so the name isn’t really Hot Rod High. It’s really Peabody-Burns Junior Senior high school. It’s a small school located a short drive straight north of Wichita Kansas. But they have one of the coolest programs I’ve seen. The superintendent is Rex Watson and several years ago Rex had an idea.

Rex had a handful of students whose needs simply weren’t being met in a traditional educational setting. In fact, according to Rex, several of the young men were about to step away from becoming dropouts. But Rex, who readily admits that he was potentially one of those boys when he was in high school, knew the way to their hearts. He knew that if you want to hook a group of high school boys who are close to dropping out, and totally disengage from all school activities, the way to do it is in the car.

So Rex brought the boys together  to build a car. Not just any car, a 32 Ford roadster. Recently completed, the car was sold … for $31,000! That covered the cost of all the materials to build the car with something left over to put back into the program.

And the rest, as they say, is history. The program has doubled in size, has received many donated vehicles, and is well on its way to being a permanent fixture at Peabody-Burns high school. The students are working on their second 32 Ford, this time a touring car.

The program has all of the characteristics that make for great educational experience. The students are authentically engaged, in fact to the point that toward the end of building the first car the instructor, Matt, had to get permission to take some of the students home … at two o’clock in the morning! But it’s not just that the students are authentically engaged, in a learning-by-doing atmosphere they are applying  all of their academic learning in real situations.

I had the opportunity to visit with the instructor and the students last week.  Their stories range from hilarious to heartwarming. And all the kids have a story. But each individual will tell you what a difference the hot rod program has made in their lives. – Steve Wyckoff

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