The SCHS Automotive Academy looks like a professional business.
Cars are lifted into the air as students maintain them. Wrenches, voltage meters and a vast array of tools stand ready across the back wall.
Two students from the class, having already won an O.C. auto repair competition, will go on to compete nationally to win cars and scholarship money this spring.
Bob McCarroll, the auto shop instructor, is there to guide the students, who strive to become the best at what they do: fixing cars.
"There's always been an automotive department since the school started," McCarroll said. "But the academy was started back in 1997. I wrote the grant to the state of California for the program and it was awarded to us."
According to McCarrol, the program starts during a student's sophomore year as an elective. Students are taught the basics of repairing cars, like replacing sparkplugs, filters and oil.
As the students advance into their junior years, they enter the "Systems Class," where they learn more complex subjects. Repairing air conditioning, brakes, and running performance tests are part of the class.
During the summer between their junior and senior years, students of the academy are required to intern at surrounding dealers to hone their skills.
Finally, during the students' senior years, they enter the "Advanced Diagnostics" class. This is where students are introduced to onboard computers (up to 80 per car, according to McCarrol), sensors, and actuators.
Using a scan tool on laptops, students can diagnose a car's computers and repair them remotely.
"Most students go on to tech school," said McCarroll. "The remaining students continue on to college to study mechanical engineering, enlist in the military or go straight into the work force right after they graduate. Though I don't recommend going straight into the workforce, because they can learn much more later on."
Two stars in the academy, seniors Dan Pollok and Luc Rojas, were the winners of Orange County Automobile Dealers Association's (OCADA) Automotive Technology Competition. Winning $15,000 in scholarships each, the duo is set to compete in the National Automotive Technology Competition on April 26.
"[During the OCADA Automotive Technology Competition] We were given a car with 25 problems," said Pollok. "We had an hour to fix it. Then we had two workstations where we had to fix things under a time limit. KIA and Hyundai gave us cars to practice on."
"We came in during Christmas break to practice," Rojas said. "I hope we win in New York."
With the stakes much higher in New York, the duo could win a pair of cars, more scholarship money and bring home more recognition to San Clemente's auto program.