With just an hour break between teaching classes, Letrick, who is in his seventh year as HVACR instructor at Monmouth County Vocational School District (MCVSD), has only so much time to consume his lunch. At the same time, the man who has been involved in this industry for 34 years is trying to be polite by providing answers to questions from an inquisitive trade publication reporter.
Over the intercom speaker in the spacious HVACR-Tech Prep classroom comes another interruption, which prevents Letrick from his goal of stuffing a few potato chips down the ol' gullet. The building's secretary alerts the ever-energetic teacher that a former student, Robert Finnila, is in the building and wishes to see Mr. L, as he is so referred to by administration, staff, and students.
"Send him in," says Letrick, without a hint of hesitation. Almost immediately he turns to the reporter and says, "Another former student. They always come by."
He then smiles at the prospect of seeing Finnila, who graduated from Letrick's lectures two years ago and is now a full-fledged member of the local refrigeration union, earning $18 an hour.
"Robert is a good kid," he says.
When the graduate steps into his former classroom seconds later, Letrick stands up, introduces him to the seated reporter, and begins to yak away, trying to find out what is going on in Finnila's post-MCVSD world.
Never mind that his lunch food is now abandoned, to be returned to at a much-less frantic time.
In truth, some faculty members will tell you that Letrick never slowed down since leaving nearby Lincoln Technical Institute, where he taught for 11 years, and pulled up to 21 Robertsville Road in 1999. He is considered the main reason why the HVACR segment of MCVSD's Architecture and Construction cluster continues to gain recognition, students, and honors. In a matter of less than seven years:
"That took a lot of time and effort," he says, "but it was all worth it."
"It's important to get a good advisory board," he insists. "Their input is very critical. That's why I brought them from all over."
Upon successful completion, each student gets a certificate stating accordingly. Also, students are exposed to and can take the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and 401A certification exam, plus the Industry Competency Exam (ICE). Breaking it all down, Letrick says his classes are 60 percent theory-based instruction, with the remainder being hands-on learning.
The hours it took to update the curriculum and then put it into effect is paying off. His average class size is 10 students (and would increase, he believes, "if the district would market the program more"). Letrick does his share of promoting by, among other things, hosting an annual open house, participating in career days at the local high schools, and staying in close contact with area guidance counselors.
In regard to the latter, Letrick firmly believes HVACR instructors collectively should get to know high school counselors personally since he believes guidance counselors are instrumental in molding the career paths of impressionable teenagers. The way he figures it, if an HVACR teacher bends the ear of a high school guidance counselor, informing each of the pluses of the HVACR industry, the counselor can then bend the ear of a high school student and possibly point him - or her - to a career in HVACR.
"The best way to get more students aboard is to educate them about the possibilities in HVACR, and the potential one has to gain financial security within this industry," he says.
"It is great to get the recognition," he confesses, before quickly adding, "but the best feeling is when a student comes back and says you made a difference in his life and he loves working in the HVACR trade."
One doesn't have to research long or hard to find out if Letrick is, indeed, admired by students, both past and present. Current student Nick Craig, in nominating Letrick, wrote on the contest entry form, "He teaches us how to be professional, which is his biggest characteristic. He strives for us to be professional in and out of the classes."
Another student, Josh Hoecker, wrote, "The class that Mr. L runs is designed for learning and keeping professionalism at the utmost importance. He keeps us involved with current changes in the field and has plenty of this current equipment in the class. I took the time to fill this [entry form] out because this is an award that he deserves to get."
The true test, though, comes from graduates. And, former student James Rand, who is now an HVACR instructor himself at Middlesex County Vocational School-Perth Amboy campus, provided the longest testimony for Letrick. Rand took the time to type out a two-page appraisal.
From his experience, Rand wrote that when students complained about theory, "most teachers would give in." Not Letrick.
"Guy just stopped and explained that he would not let anyone from his class go out into the field if they didn't understand the basis of the trade," wrote Rand. "It would just turn them into parts changers."
In his nomination letter, Rand also noted that he became an HVACR teacher somewhat by default, due mainly to the fact he suffered a back injury, which prohibited him from lifting heavy objects, climbing ladders, "and all those things that an HVACR mechanic can do."
"So, I applied to become a teacher. Without the theory background Guy provided, I could have never made the transition," praised Rand. "I made the transition to teacher and Guy was right there helping me develop the curriculum and expectations of the program. Without any benefit for himself, I think that says a lot about a person and his dedication to the trade."
It also says a lot when a person abandons his lunch to answer an inquisitive reporter plus entertain a visiting former student, all at the same time.
Publication date: 11/13/2006