Jacksonville Shop Class Steers Students to Tech Schools

JACKSONVILLE, Ark. - More than half of the country's top public universities have replaced lower-income students with wealthier ones in their lecture halls over the past 14 years.

A New America report cites the University of Arkansas as part of this recruitment trend.

As college costs only continue to rise, the governor's office is even encouraging high schoolers to enroll in technical schools.

A shop class at Jacksonville High School is steering students in that direction. 

Wayne Griffin, a self-proclaimed grease monkey, left the industry for the classroom. Some of his former students are working for the top dragster and monster truck teams in the country.

"They're doing great things with their lives, and these were kids that didn't think they could do these things so it's impressive to see it," Griffin said. 

The shop teacher wants his students to know not everyone has to go to a four-year college to succeed. 

"Wooooooah, bologna!," cheered Griffin and a group of his students at the start of their presentation Friday in the school cafeteria. 

The well-oiled machine strapped on dented helmets and prepared weathered tools to put their passion to the test.

"I was always a real gearhead at a young age," said senior Joshua Wesley. "When I was a little kid, I wanted to get involved with cars. I liked building things in my room. I just really liked engineering, I guess, the mechanical side of the world."

The "501 Grease Monkeys" raced against the clock, taking apart a car engine and putting it back together in less than 33 minutes.

"To see them all come together as a group and work hard for something, that's really gotten to be rare these days with these kids," Griffin said. 

In his 11 years at the school, Griffin is bringing his third team and their tools to Las Vegas for a national engine building competition.

They're the only school in the state to ever qualify and nearly won it last year.

"One of the teammates had quit within a week of qualifying, and I didn't know anything about it," Wesley said. "I didn't know any parts of the engine. They taught me how to do it in one week, and we qualified with a 23-minute run."

Wesley is going back this year as team captain with classmates who have never competed before but are aiming for top three.

"Every time we're under pressure, we go faster," Wesley said. "We always knock a minute off each time we're under pressure."

Classmates surrounded them during the lunch hour to put the pressure on. After a quick breather once they took the motor apart, the team raced back to work to put it all back together.

They finished at 19:58, their best run yet.

"I never thought it was possible until we did it," Wesley said. 

"It's really neat to see the light come on in a kid's head," Griffin said. 

The record to beat: 16 minutes.

These students already earned $5,000 each in the competition. Depending on how they do at nationals, they could earn up to $25,000. 

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