WESTMINSTER — Dressed in blue coveralls, several would-be diesel mechanics sit in a classroom at the Carroll County Vocational Technical Centers with their notebooks open and calculators in action.
"There's a lot of math," said Darin Lowe, a South Carroll High School sophomore who is one of 25 students in the county's diesel mechanics program. "We learn stuff you'll actually use. We have a lot of theory and math work."
The county's award-winning diesel mechanics program includes not just hands-on experience with diesel and other engines in the shop, but also theory in professional ethics, chemistry, fuel and cooling.
"I would recommend that anybody who wants to take this class take electronics and algebra," said James Miller, a Francis Scott Key High School sophomore. "People who haven't had it will have trouble."
Carroll's diesel mechanics curriculum, which became a part of the vo-tech program in 1987, recently received Maryland's Career and Technology Education Distinguished Program Award.
The diesel mechanics classroom will be among the highlights of a Vo-Tech open house from 6 to9 p.m. Wednesday to mark Vocational Education Week, which runs todaythrough Saturday. This year's theme is "Vocational Education: Classroom of the Future."
Lynne Gilli of the state Department of Education's Career and Technology Division said Carroll's diesel and other vo-tech programs are important to the community in terms of economic development, providing skilled workers and preparing students for further education.
"Carroll's center is a perfect example of that kindof education," she said.
With financial backing from the county and the state, Vo-Tech has been able to purchase high-tech equipment for the diesel mechanics shop, said Principal Robert L. Gebhart.
"We're ahead of many areas of the state in the diesel program," Gebhartsaid. "If you don't have the proper equipment, you can't teach diesel mechanics. We have a good rapport with the industrial community, and that helps keep our kids up-to-date in the classroom." The principal also attributed the program's success to its instructor, James L. LaBarre, who formerly taught in Howard County schools and helped develop Carroll's program.
"Mechanics is more than tearing a lawn mowerapart," LaBarre said. "A lot of people don't realize how much work the program entails, especially in the areas of math and electronics."
The goal of the program is to prepare students for the heavy-dutytruck mechanics certification test, which is given by a national non-profit corporation that promotes high standards of service in the industry, and to obtain a career in the diesel field.
"We teach not only about the engine," LaBarre said. "We also teach about whatever comes behind the engine -- the truck, tires -- all those things."
Generally, students begin the program in their junior year. Occasionally, sophomores are admitted. Students split their day between their home school and the Vo-Tech Center.
After completing six quarters of training, students may accept entry-level work in the diesel mechanics field. About 75 percent of the students are employed in their senior year, and 95 percent of the students find work after graduation.
"We prepare them as well as we can in two years," said LaBarre. "It's not really long enough. It should really be a three-year program."